Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It Gets Better

I wasn’t one of the fourteen kids in America who thought high school was a magical time of my life.

It. Blew. Chunks.

It was a time of desperately trying not to be shunted off to the margins. The most minor of infractions got you seated on the sidelines, which is where the hazing took place. If you managed to get out of the margins, you would do your damndest to keep anyone else from getting back in. Apparently the lessons of dodgeball are a little too literal - letting anyone else in somehow made you more vulnerable. It's a system built on fear and unsupported by any sense of real self-confidence. The fuckeduppedness of it all is that time goes at a different speed in high school, like dog years – one month of high school time equals seven months of human time.

Imagine if you’ve got something burbling beneath the surface beyond your garden-variety teen angst. Most everything about high school is related, in some way or another, to gender or sex dynamics. If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of teenagers who deviates from the accepted social norm of “healthy sexuality”, you’re fucked, so to speak. I had to try to act normal while going through some pretty non-normal sexual abuse on the homefront. (Try explaining to your boyfriend that you don’t want to go past second base because when you get home, you’ll be raped and have to do your trig homework and honestly, that’s enough for one day.)

Now, imagine you’re one of the lucky kids who deviates, but is still accepted. Oak Reed posted a message on Facebook asking people to vote for him for homecoming king. And they did – he won. The school stripped him of the title on the technicality that he’s registered at the school as a female. In effect, they robbed Oak of his right to choose his gender role. Very few people in the US have a healthy body image, which is closely tied in with your self-worth, regardless of what culture you’re from. If you don’t feel good about the way you’re presenting yourself to the world, you don’t feel good. Period.

It’s galling that a student put himself out there confidently and the school denied him and his classmates the opportunity to redefine normal. That is officially systematic persecution, institutionalized bullshit.

It doesn't instill a lot of hope for changing the system.

When I was a freshman in college, Matthew Shephard's death was shocking. He was tortured and left to die an agonizingly slow and painful death for being gay. We all thought it would be a wakeup call. More than ten years later and on the cusp of marriage equality, things still haven’t clicked in the high school world. At this point, it's exhausting and demoralizing. Recently, Billy Lucas, a teenager in Indiana killed himself after bullying at his high school escalated. He was only suspected of being gay.

His school’s response? Well, don't you worry there, because they are on top of that shit. In fact, they are forming a committee. Just like in Congress, and we all know how well that works.

A reader wrote into Savage Love expressing hopelessness and frustration at the situation. What the hell can we do?

One thing got me through high school. I had a handful of amazing teachers who had suspected that something wasn’t right. They offered me the best comfort they could:

It gets better.

And they were right. Here in adultland, high school seems a distant memory on Saturday nights when I’m surrounded by friends. Time moves faster and all the fucked up stuff that you thought was going to be the end of your life in high school are now fodder for funny stories to share over drinks. Dan Savage’s response is the same one that got me through high school.It gets better.

He’s started the It Gets Better project on YouTube to host videos from the LGBT community sending the message to high schoolers that life really does get better. My only hope is that they’ll expand the message to any kid who has lost power and self-confidence at the behest of their sexual circumstances or gender norm.

And because I'm a petty person, I'd also like to point out that not only does it get better, but the people who peak in high school generally live pretty menial lives while you're getting on with your adulthood awesomeness. You know that cheer - it's alright; it's ok! You're gonna pump our gas one day!Well, they might not be pumping your gas, but you'll find your comeuppance. Don't forget to tell them how incredibly awesome your life is.

Mine came one afternoon when I found a particularly heinous high school classmate clearly hating her job at the Customer Service counter, tucked away in the chilly blue fluorescent glare of the basement lighting in Filene's Basement. I smiled, thanked her for her service, and went back out into the bright sunshine.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Turtle Power

So, for all those people out there trying to save the turtles, I would just like to suggest that perhaps they aren't so innocent after all.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

When Does a Dream Become a Nightmare?

I don't think I will ever sleep again after seeing this.

This is way worse than my recurring nightmare where a giant lizard chases me up into the attic in my childhood home and it turns out to be a lake full of piranhas and the girls who went to my junior high.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Uranus Conjunction, What's Your Function

I'm trying to avoid any prognostications and planning on laying low tonight. You see, shit is going DOWN in the universe, and given the summer, I'm not one to fuck around with all that cosmic detritus unleashing. Today is the autumnal equinox. On top of that, Uranus (ha, on top of Uranus) will line up with Jupiter and the harvest moon, causing the Google sky map on my phone to freak out.

Astrologers apparently call the phenomenon the Great Uranus-Jupiter Conjunction, which sounds like Schoolhouse Rock Porn. But it's supposed to mean great changes for the globe and for people undergoing major life changes. Uhhhh, thanks but no thanks? I think I'm good without the stars aligning against me.

Of biggest note, though, is that today marks DCHenge, when the rising and setting sun lines up perfectly with the cross streets. Happily, today is also World Carfree Day, so DC's already cripplingly bad drivers won't face another handicap in their effort to mow me down. Still, you have to wonder if Moscow has gotten a handle on how the whole carfree thing works. Or the rest of Europe. Siiiigh.

Is it too much to hope that the Great Uranus-Jupiter Conjunction (hee) will destroy DC traffic?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In Other News...

How much do I love it that the world's largest piece of naan comes from Wales?

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Divorce Bridesmaids

I’ve been feeling all warm and fuzzy on what, by all rights, should have been a shit weekend. I moved out of the apartment that the Object and I shared for some 3-4 years, and the first place I ever really felt was my home, a place I was homesick for. I even wrote about that not long after I moved in.

Two weeks ago, the Object was packing up his things and preparing to move out, so I’d stayed with a friend. After he moved out in the first weekend of September1. I brought my stuff back to the apartment so that I wouldn’t have to keep running back and forth while I packed.

Guess what? That was a special kind of suckiness, one I was wholly unprepared for. The Apartment Formerly Known as Home (AFKH) was in shambles, a visceral and literal metaphor for my personal life. Every time I woke up, I was alone, no Object there to oversnuggle me 2. I restlessly tossed around at night, buying stupidly expensive things on the internets and accruing circles under my eyes of the kind normally reserved for drunks in the throes of advanced liver fuckeduppedness.

It’s like that disease that kids get – failure to thrive. It’s kind of the worst feeling in the world – you’re not dying, but you’re not actively living, either. And you’re just alone. In Stone Soup, Barbara Kingsolver describes the humiliating crux of dissolving a long-term relationship.

This might be worse than being widowed. Overnight I've suffered the same losses--companionship, financial and practical support, my identity as a wife and partner, the future I'd taken for granted. I am lonely, grieving, and hard-pressed to take care of my household alone. But instead of bringing casseroles, people are acting like I had a fit and broke up the family china.

A few friends are absolutely devastated – almost surprisingly so – by my breakup with the Object. We seemed like the perfect couple. It’s very hard to explain to people that you’re leaving not because of anything he did, not because of anything I did, and not even because the relationship was bad.

It just wasn’t good.

So, as Friday night rolled around, I steeled myself for a hellish weekend that would officially mark my lonely foray into singlehood.

Oh, how I underestimated the Divorce Bridesmaids.

This is my group of friends who have rallied around me the past month, giving me support/cupcakes/fruit, telling me not to drink too much, and gently walking me through the motions of life. Like nursing a hospice patient, they’ve helped me shift how I define the quality of my life, shaping the end of my relationship into a good death.

This weekend, one of my first friends in DC drove up from Roanoke for the sole purpose of holding my hand through the move. He even let me give him shit for unquitting smoking again. Saturday morning, six more friends showed up, and lifted all of my things into a truck, drove me to the new place, and started unpacking for me. They convinced me to go buy new furniture 3, and to buy my very own furniture that would make me feel like an accomplished adult, not just scavenge from friends. “This is why you have a rainy day fund. It’s raining.”

Then they took me over to RCKNDY, where I’d been lusting after furniture I didn’t think I should really buy, helped me make decisions, and reminded me I was doing the right thing. “Sometimes stuff is better than love,” the Rawk Goblin reassured me. “At least the love you had.”

The furniture salesman rang me up. “It’s not everyone who gets six friends to help them move stuff; you’re an awfully lucky girl,” he said as he handed me lollipops for all of the divorce bridesmaids.Meanwhile, two other bridesmaids had stayed back to start unpacking boxes and make my new apartment feel like Home. Throughout the day, I got all kinds of encouraging messages and texts.

It was almost the opposite of what Kingsolver described. I felt scooped up into an embarrassment of riches from all the attention, love, and kindness my friends offered me. If I remember my Dad’s funeral properly, soon the crisis and the immediacy of loss will settle down, and the dull ache of grief will settle back in. I’m pretty sure that lonliness is a painful prerequisite to relearning how to be alone4, and there will still be some very hard times ahead.

But this time, I feel so much more optimistic. I’m looking forward to cultivating these friendships, which I neglected while I tended to an ailing relationship. I have the energy to make a house a home without the emotional exhaustion of trying to please someone who wanted to be dissatisfied. I woke up this morning, a little startled that this is the next chapter of my life – a beautiful home, friends who care deeply for me, and a future brighter than the inside of a lightbulb. And I didn’t even have to go that deeply into debt to get to the feeling I always crave, when my brain kicks in and says, “You have enough.”

I never wanted a wedding with the Object, but I did want some kind of commitment ceremony, some way for our friends to come together and celebrate a love I thought was worth a fist pump or two. Plus, let’s face it, the presents are awfully awesome 5. I never got the ceremony. But I did get the Divorce Bridesmaids, and now I feel responsible to live up to all the awesome they’ve shown me by coming out of my post-breakup stupor and living again. It’s probably the best present I’ve ever gotten: the desire to thrive.

And even better from a karmic standpoint, I've never made anyone wear this:

1. Not without a bang or some proverbial turds left in my closet that may or may not have been from his friend, but that’s another story for another day.

2. And for me to then complain about being oversnuggled. I underestimate how much I enjoyed whining about that.

3. The Object got the furniture, at least, all the furniture worth taking. Packing up was rough. We bickered over things that have little intrinsic value, but that each of us had built up to mean something completely different. It was more than a little indicative of why we’re splitting up. He took all the furniture. To be fair, he paid for much of it. But I paid for a number of intangible things – our trip to Peru; several years’ worth of Christmas presents from both of us to his family – things like that. I’d found and picked out most of the furniture – incredibly unique finds that we both fell in love with. When he paid for it, I thought we saw it as building a life together. He saw it as him paying for some sweet investments in furniture he would have for the rest of his life.There’s some discrepancy in the pronouns there, no?

4. One of the most useful life skills, which, much to my chagrin, is not taught as one of the professional development courses I’m forced to take at The Elliott School of International Affairs. That’s a pretty gross oversight on their part, especially considering all the people in those executive inpatient programs.

5. I’m convinced that 87% of weddings are just to score the presents. The other 13% are the weddings of my friends, who would never be so crass.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

I'm a Stereotype

Unhappy Hipsters is funnier when they're more ironic and less true to one's own life. The biggest fights the Object and I had in the end were over who got to keep the midcentury modern furniture carefully selected through years of hunting at secondhand stores.

The worst part is that I lost.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

How Could You Not Want to Be Part of This?!

Friday, September 03, 2010

A Little Fucking Ray of Sunshine

The first day of classes this week has been awkward. It starts out innocuously enough with the question, “How was your summer?” My reply is usually a cautious, “Um, it was ok.”

“What did you do?”

Aaaaand that’s where it gets awkward.

“Well, I went to Barcelona, which was nice. When I got home, I found out that my landlords were suing me in a misguided attempt to kick me out of my rent-controlled apartment. Then, I went to Uganda. After I narrowly avoided getting suicide bombed, I delivered some babies I’m pretty sure won’t survive till their fifth birthday. Then the work project I’ve spent the last fifteen months working on fell completely apart, leaving me to question my values and my career. After I got home from the month in Uganda, I was trying to sort out the career/academic mess I’d created when my hetero life partner and I decided that we didn’t want to be life partners anymore. Oh, and he made me skip the only times at the beach that I had lined up. And now I have to move out of the rent-controlled apartment I fought so hard for. But other than that, pretty good. How about you?

And then it gets really, really awkward, because the response is usually “I got engaged/married.”

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Pretty Sound Advice

I've gotten a lot of advice lately, but two peices really stick out:

There are No Accidents in the Universe

This came out the day the Object and I formally ended things.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

It's a Cold but Not a Broken Hallelujah

I've been walking around town like I sprang a leak. Someone will say something to me that triggers a memory of when the Object and I had The Perfect Relationship, our whole lives ahead of us. Come on, how many people do you know whose relationship was thinly veiled in a graphic novella?

Then I'll remember that's over. The tears trickle helplessly out of the corners of my eyes.

I'm ashamed to be out and about all splotchy and puffy-eyed like someone who's watched a little too much Lifetime Television for Women. I want to control it, to be strong, and to stay motivated and positive for the future that lies ahead of me. Sometimes I am. But I'm still grieving the Object, which leads to a cognitive dissonance when I see him in our apartment or when we email each other details moving out. I know I've made the right decision, but the part of me that wants to go back in time, armed with the hindsight I have now and warn young Goo not to do the things that I did that poisoned a beautiful love and friendship.

For the record, I don't understand how we're a decade into the 21st century and lack time travel1,2. Forced to deal with the reality of my situation in the present tense, those double XX chromosomes take over and my genetic code unleashes the tears. I keep trying to fix it, to change it, to make it better. I don't want to feel this, and I'm scared of the emotions yet to come.

It's hard to think of tears as anything less than a failure. Growing up in a houseful of boys, whenever I cried, I was always told to toughen up. But tough steeliness won't do anything for me now except make me bitter like tea that's been brewed too hot and too long. As we were going through the myriad Deep and Meaningfuls that led to the end, the Object posed me the question, "If you could change anything about your life, what would you change? I mean, other than the relationship?"

I thought. I thought more. I couldn't come up with much.

It turns out I really like my life.

I have this theory, that love and grief is like relativity: the harder you loved, the harder you grieve and the more pain you feel when love disappears. Every now and then, I have the wherewithal to remind myself that I feel this pain because I allowed myself to be vulnerable to another person. In letting the Object into my life, he helped me grow and become a person I really like being. Now that I'm letting him go, that person doesn't change.

And so I'm left with nothing to fix, not even my leaky eyes.

A friend of mine recently had an epiphany. Our friend Rich seems like a tough guy - lots of tattoos, listens to a lot of hard core punk rock, a no-frills kind of guy. Recently they were hanging out together, when Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah drifted over the airwaves. My friend noticed tears streaming down his face; Rich was weeping right there in broad daylight. Like me, she's a fixer - make things better, take away the suffering, right? She frantically raced around, finding tissues, trying to think of ways to cheer him up. But Rich waved off the tissues, smiled through his tears, and said, "No, it's ok. I just like to cry. I come from a family of weepers." He didn't need or even want to be fixed or healed; Rich was simply allowing himself to let the beauty of the song wash over him.

So I'm trying to let the tears cleanse me with my emotions, to tenderly feel the love that I had, and to grieve the loss of my very best friend. It's a lesson in trusting myself, this person who I've become that I really like being -- and who the Object helped to shape. It's scary and comforting at the same time to know that I'm not broken, but rather, a whole person complete equipped with the whole Crayola box of feeling. What good are they if they go unused?

2. Also, hoverboards.