Dating and Other Social Conventions

I have not ever been much of a dater. I have either been single, or been paired off in a monogamous relationship. Now, at the ripe old age of 48, I am dipping not just a toe but both feet and maybe even a knee into this odd experience. Doing so is rapidly bringing me up against some of my areas of challenge, my discomforts, and the realities of our misogynistic world. It has also been revelatory in unexpected ways.

First off, filling out the “About Me” sections on a couple of the sites was an enjoyable process. I wasn’t thinking at all about how someone would perceive what I wrote or who I am: I just wrote out a thoughtful and to the point description of myself and what I like. And, to my immense surprise, my primary emotional reaction to doing so was, “Hey! I like myself! I am not just saying that I am strong and smart, etc.; I actually believe it!”

I like me. That is an enormous victory. I see that I am an extraordinary person with many gifts, and I am proud of what I have learned, the work I have done, and what I am doing.

Secondly, I am deliberately going against my historical pattern of spending so much more emotional energy on whether someone would or does like me than on whether I like them, that I over-accommodate and react and give away way too much before I’ve even realized it on a conscious level. So this time around I am consciously setting aside the question/projection of whether the guy would like me or not (and I have to keep doing so: this is an ancient pattern, hard to change) in favor of answering the question of whether or not I’m interested in him. I am swiping right whenever the answer to that question is, “Yes”, or even, “Maybe”. I am practicing “Yes”.

Doing so is showing me how automatic and firm our categories are, and how I have obeyed them over the years. Ie., “He’s traditionally handsome and fit. I don’t belong in that category. He won’t be attracted to me, and it’s totally reasonable that he won’t be.” Now I’m attempting to assess, as much as is possible, the whole person presented on the screen in front of me, and to answer my internal questions: “Would I like to have a conversation with this person?”; “Is this person emotionally/psychologically attractive to me?”; “Is this person physically attractive to me?” If the answers are yes, I swipe right, or like the profile. If the answers are no, I don’t.

Thirdly, I am encountering language from which I am usually bubbled off, and having to figure out how and why I am reacting to it in the way I am. For example, I have disliked the words “lady” and “gentleman” for as long as I can remember. One man described me in his message to me variously as, “young lady”, and “sweet lady”. To my significant surprise, when I wrote him back and said that as a feminist, the word lady is outside my vernacular, he had a direct, non-offended, and respectful response which included the following: “I like your profile because of the way you are talking about your past experiences. You write about yourself so freely that I can recognize the feminist you are. Talking about previous partners is not a common thing to see in man and woman profile; that include me too. I admire your courage and again the feminist you are.” So I wrote him back.

The exchange caused me to think more deeply about why I dislike those words. And here it is: they are associated with a morals-based code of thinking, dressing, and conduct which is problematic for all of us, in my opinion, but especially for women. Women who are “ladies” are expected to dress conservatively (don’t be a slut); act modestly (don’t be a slut); speak gently (don’t challenge the “natural” authority of men). Women who abrogate those rules can be punished in a variety of ways, from small to large. If someone calls me a lady, that is likely to tell me that he has expectations of women in particular and me in specific that feel dangerous to me. So many guys feel entitled to the attention, smiles, sexual availability, support, etc., of women. So many men feel entitled to sex if they pay for a meal. So many men feel entitled to a smile if they pay you a compliment. The list goes on.

I am not a lady by the regular definition: while I do my best to be respectful and polite to people in general, I am also direct; sometimes quite authoritative in my manner; have a powerful personality; have a pretty strong libido; don’t dress conservatively; and am only interested in having men open doors for me if they’re interested in reciprocal courtesy from me. Etc. Etc.

So my question is, if a man thinks I am a lady, will he actually respect me? And yes, that turns the traditional equation right over on its head.

Fourthly, I am allowing and encouraging myself to say no whenever I feel like it: not capriciously, but in accordance with my intuition and judgment. A man who does not appear to be interested in self-reflection is a man with whom I don’t wish to have either a friendship or a romance. A man who responds with hostility or diminishing language to my setting of boundaries or being clear is a man with whom I don’t even want to have any further conversation. Instead of accommodating, being silent on the subject, or making excuses, I am setting boundaries and saying no when I want to. I am practicing “No”.

I joked with a friend yesterday that I’m sometimes tempted to use the Evil Willow (from the TV show “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”) line: “Bored now.” I won’t do it, because I am aiming to treat others with respect and consideration. But sometimes I have to resist the urge to include the gif in my messages.

Fifthly, I am very conscious of the fact that women are quite regularly assaulted. Well-behaved women might rarely make history, but they are also frowned upon by quite a significant percentage of society. Going out to meet a man whom I don’t know feels inherently dangerous. And before you say this is an overreaction, look at the stats. I wish it weren’t so. I wish this were just a process of figuring out whether attraction is mutual or not. But it is not that simple. It just is not. And I have that voice in my head which says that if something happens to me, if a man does harass or assault me, I am to a degree asking for it by spending time in his company. That is a hard voice to quiet. So, I will have to take some precautions when I do agree to meet up in person with a man. And I will have to accept the risk. And I grieve and rage that simply by dating, I am increasing my risk. And I am moving forward anyway, because I want to have a full life, including a love relationship.

My conclusion is that dating, like everything else, presents rich opportunities for personal growth. I am hoping for some fun, too.

The value of music, and of being a musician

In my darker moments, sometimes I start thinking that being a professional musician (in the way I am currently doing it) is an inherently selfish act. Why?

Because I love what I do, and I often don’t get paid for doing it (the performing and the practicing).
Because I could be spending that time with my kids, who miss me when I’m gone.
Because I don’t play for an established large symphony, with a salary and benefits, which would help support my family in addition to the teaching I do.
Because there are lots of much better cellists in the world performing the repertoire I’m performing, and doing a better job of it, so really, who does it benefit for me to be inadequately replicating their efforts?
Because music is not important in the way medicine is, or teaching kids in school. It’s a cultural accessory. Should I really be devoting so much of my time and energy to it?

There are other areas of my mind and heart which recognize the fallacies in the statements above. But in a society which is so focused on money, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of thinking that my worth is inextricably tied to my income, and the ways in which I make that income.

Ted, bless his heart, has started referring to my practice as work when he talks to the kids. He has explained that he believes it needs to be perceived as work, just as much as my teaching hours. So, the other day when I said I was going to go practice, he said to the kids, pointedly, “Yes, Mommy is going to go to work.” His support makes me cry tears of joy, and also of grief for the message I have received in so many other ways that what I do is not really that important. My practice hours have always been the schedule item that most easily falls off the schedule, deprioritized in favor of kids’ appointments, family business & logistics, etc. Also, I am a procrastinator, and so there’s the layer of resistance I feel, the tendency I have to fight to want to go to bed or relax when I have time with childcare, instead of practicing. Because of that latter internal struggle, I am even more apt to blame myself, or to view practicing as a luxury, or something that’s not really crucial in the broader picture. Sexism plays a role here, too; this is an inner narrative to which I am sure a lot of women can relate.

I talk to my students sometimes about the role music can play in their lives lifelong, and I believe in what I say. I believe in the curative, inspirational, meditative, restorative, intellectually and emotionally and physically and spiritually impactful and interweaving powers of music. I believe that it expands our minds and hearts and souls, and that a society that does not highly value art and artists is impoverished in important ways. I believe it affects us holistically, that being involved with music is more than receiving and giving pleasure, that it can help us re-join the disparate parts of ourselves. I believe all of that.

And I also believe that my unique voice, my unique combination of training and heart and mind and intention, is important. I believe that I can contribute something important.

I will always have that internal despair that can yell or whisper or sneer that I am a loser and that what I’m doing doesn’t matter. But I do have examples large and small of the ways in which music has changed people’s lives, in the moment or the hour or the forever. And I need to hold onto those.

I’d love to see readers’ comments with your stories of your relationship with music and what it means to you. Let’s add to the cultural narrative in a positive way, in this, a tiny corner of the internet.

Thanks for reading!

47!, cell-phone addiction, tattoos

Tomorrow (which will occur in 5 minutes) I will have arrived at the day upon which I turn 47 years old. I am sufficiently in touch with my child-self to be frankly astounded by the size of that number. I am quite amazed, however, by how little I find myself to be entering my dotage, and in fact, am living a life in which I feel renewed energy, drive, love, and purpose, for all of which I feel deep gratitude.

Seven years ago, on my 40th birthday, I went to a pottery painting place and made a platter celebrating what I had in my life: a partner, a house, a child on the way, friends, etc. I am going to the same place tomorrow, after my family birthday brunch. This time, my purpose is to paint cell-phone trays. I did something similar before when I made little jewelry cups, one for most rooms of the house so that when I take earrings or rings or necklaces off I have somewhere to put them where I’ll be able to find them later. This has worked quite well, and saved me quite a bit of stress over the years. What I intend relative to the cell-phone trays is a bit different, however.

I find myself addicted to my phone. I’ve written about this before, but the degree to which it is so has come into sharp relief for me in recent months. I feel good about my solution. I will decorate these trays and place them in at least three rooms of the house, and then, after I’ve checked my schedule for the day & done whatever communication I need to for the morning, I will place my phone in the tray and not pick it up until such time as I’ve decided is appropriate, ie, when my kids are down for their nap, or at the end of the day, etc. And I’m going to turn off notifications so my phone is not constantly mooing at me (as it does when the volume is turned off but the phone is still able to vibrate).

The only possible exception is for picture-taking: but upon the recording of whatever moment I’m wanting to capture photographically for posterity, back the phone needs to go.

I am only able to take this step because as I’ve let go of the debilitating shame I’ve had for much of my life, I find myself better able to take actions in support of whatever the highest option is.

This evening as I soaked in the tubs at a local spa and considered tattoos (something I have done over the past decade or so), here are the words that came to mind: compassion, honesty, presence, ferocity, love. These are qualities which I celebrate as my gifts, and also honor as my challenges, qualities to cultivate and to which I aspire. And the animal which to me embodies them is the elephant, which is fierce in defense of its family, loving in life and upon death, powerfully strong, and, in my perception, thoughtful and present.

I don’t know if I will ever get a tattoo, but in the last couple of years I have finally (to the delight of my oldest child) decided on my favorite color, blue, and now I have recognized that the elephant is what I consider to be my totem animal. I think I am claiming and celebrating myself, who I am and who I want to be.

And that is a big gift in this, the beginning of my 48th year of life.

Love poetry, of a spiritual nature

I am thankful for my friends every day. Some days the gifts I receive from them are so plentiful, important, and life changing I give thanks with an even more passionate heart.

For most of my life I have had an allergic reaction to anything smacking of religion. The idea of a soul never made sense to me. The word “God” gave me the heebee jeebees. As I have gotten older, I have gotten more comfortable with not knowing, with mystery, with a lack of clear answers, with feeling and intuition, and with receiving wisdom from different sources and in different presentations.

After a pivotal and emotionally powerful conversation with my friend P today, about love, self-love, wounds, grief, and healing, she sent me the following poems. I share them in case anyone else resonates with them and finds them useful. “My Eyes So Soft” is particularly moving for me, as loneliness is something I experience as being so painful, and have since I was a little kid. One of my big emotional/psychological/spiritual/life tasks is to be with myself, gently, without judgment, without trying to change my own feelings in an effort to be more comfortable or happy. “I shouldn’t feel x way” is one way in which I make myself not ok with being me.

If I can learn to be more comfortable with my emotional realities, then I suspect I’ll be more comfortable with my kids’, too. So this is for me, and it is for them.

—–
NOW IS THE TIME

Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.
Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God.
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you can finally live
With veracity
And love.

My dear, please tell me,
Why do you still
Throw sticks at your heart
And God?
What is it in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear?

Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
This is the time
For you to deeply compute the impossibility
That there is anything
But Grace.
Now is the season to know
That everything you do
Is sacred.

A CUSHION FOR YOUR HEAD
Just sit there right now
Don’t do a thing
Just rest.

For your separation from God,
From love,

Is the hardest work
In this
World.
Let me bring you trays of food
And something
That you like to
Drink.
You can use my soft words
As a cushion
For your
Head.

MY EYES SO SOFT
Don’t
Surrender
Your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more
Deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice so
Tender,
My need of God
Absolutely
Clear.

STAY WITH US
You
Leave
Our company when you speak
Of shame.
And this makes
Everyone in the Tavern sad.
Stay with us
As we do the hardest work of rarely
Laying down
That pick and
Shovel
That will keep
Revealing our deeper kinship
With
God,
That will keep revealing
Our own divine
Worth.
You leave the company of the Beloved’s friends
Whenever you speak of
Guilt,
And this makes
Everyone in the Tavern
Very sad.
Stay with us tonight
As we weave love

And reveal ourselves,
Reveal ourselves

As God’s precious
Garments.

MANY LIVES AGO
Your tastes have become refined.
It used to be
If someone stole all your coins
Or locked your sexual pleasures in a room
You could not reach
This world would have no meaning
And a thirst for a hemlock brew
Might arise.
But that was many lives ago.

Now look at yourself:
You are often still a mess
Though these days,
At times,

You weep because
You miss
God.

My first mammogram, another life milestone

I just had my first mammogram. Ever. The reasons that I’ve not had one before are multiple and sort of embarrassing, but as I am attempting to practice compassion for myself, I add this to the list of things to treat gently.

So, I was afraid it would be painful. It wasn’t. Slight discomfort was the extent of it. Also, I have a family history of breast cancer, and have been convinced since an early age that that history inevitably means that I will get and die of that disease. And so investigating the possibility freaked me out enough that I buried my head in the sand. I will get the results later on today, and it is extremely likely that they will be fine. Nonetheless, I am experiencing some anxiety while waiting to hear back. I have so many friends or acquaintances who have struggled with this disease. At the same time, I am glad that I have finally gotten myself to and through this experience, post pregnancy, birth & breast-feeding.

The tech told me about a new ultrasound-based device that I might want to try next time. It’s so cutting edge that insurance sometimes doesn’t pay for it. But, she said, it would be a good choice for me as apparently I have dense breast tissue. As my friend M said, “Then why do they still sag?” Heh. Isn’t getting older so much fun?

And yet, my earnest answer to that snarky question is, “Yes! It’s so much better than the alternative.” I want to live. I want to be responsible for myself. I want to be alive and healthy for as long as I can manage it, for myself and for my loved ones, especially my kids.

What is obvious is still not always easy, straightforward, or simple. But engagement, moving forward, accepting challenge, learning, growing are all better than resistance and denial (though of course, as human beings, we all find ourselves in the middle of the latter state).

Life sure is full these days. And for that, even as I writhe about in the middle of my own personal stew, I am grateful.

The conditions for compassion (or, Personal Manifesto #3,594)

While I was walking to the park with the twins today (after purchasing them new boots, a froggy pair and a blue “explorer pattern” pair), I thought about the oft-used phrase, “You did/are doing your best” which is a reason given for why one should extend compassion to oneself or other people. The thing is, that sentiment often doesn’t help me particularly, because my internal response to it is, “No I didn’t/am not.” To a certain part of myself, that is indisputably true, because it is always possible to be doing better. And thus, as became clear in the two conversations that followed, I never rate my own self-compassion, because I’m never doing my best. In this frame of mind, all I can see when I look at my life is a string of failures which constitute incontrovertible evidence against me.

What I am finally coming to, at the ripe age of 46, is that this way just simply doesn’t work. Endless self-flagellation is ineffective as a path to or method of self-improvement. It is not practical. It is born of fear. And it is the opposite of love.

I think I’ve finally arrived at a genuine desire to love myself, and thus, I need to give myself the gift of unconditional compassion. I must allow for a learning curve, for mistakes, for basic human nature. And so when I find that I am being harsh with myself, I have to try to remember that forgetting to be compassionate is a pattern that also requires a compassionate response. And if I can’t find it in the moment, I need to cultivate trust that I will later.

One mistake I’ve made is to assume that certain (critical/impatient) behavior patterns define me, who I am, what kind of person I am, what worth I have. Partly, that’s because those patterns have their roots in my very early childhood, and so have been with me for almost my entire life, and can therefore seem to cover the entire sky. I have to remember that I possess both imagination and will, and can look beyond these patterns to see other possibilities, as well as looking right at them to understand and move away from them. I can make choices. I can make changes. And that capacity, rather than robbing me of any eligibility for compassion or love, is something to celebrate.

If I can offer myself compassion, I can also have more flexibility, more margin, more understanding, more love, and more happiness, both internally and in relationship to others. That seems both practical and desirable.

Compassion doesn’t require justification, reasons, or any particular circumstance. It is the love of the universe, and I hereby choose to receive it.

And that is the heart of the Sufi mediations I have been getting back to, “Ya Ghaffar,” and “Ya Ghafur”. From the book, “Physicians of the Heart,” here are relevant quotes.

The form of al-Ghaffar in the sound-code of Arabic grammar gives it a quality that is both continuous and repetitive. You may make the same mistake over and over again, a hundred or a thousand times a day. Every day. But such repeated errors never place you outside the realm of divine forgiveness. Repetitiveness is no problem for al-Ghaffar. Its nature makes it repetitive. Al-Ghaffar’s forgiveness is continuous and repetitive.

and

Both al-Ghaffar and al-Ghafur have this same root meaning of covering over in a healing kind of way. One of the physical plane variations of the root of these Names refers to covering over the cracks in a leather water skin using the sticky substance that bees use to repair their hives. In a desert culture, a whole tribe could die of thirst from a leaky waterskin. This is a very earthy image that helps us understand the importance of this basic kind of forgiveness.

By calling on these two sacred Names we can actively moisturize and heal the cracks in our being that allow the water of life to dissipate and our hearts to dry up. Repetition of Ya Ghaffar, Ya Ghafur brings a pliability that allows us to overcome brittleness of character. It is a soothing balm to our woundedness. It begins to ease the pain that has caused us to isolate ourselves in our relationships in life.

In order to receive love, I must also believe that I deserve it. I am deeply motivated to continue making progress with this life lesson, partly because I’m frankly tired of all the flogging, and partly because I don’t want to pass this along to my kids if I can help it. Let them pick up their own burdens rather than taking on mine!

I am so grateful to have all the resources I do; friends and family who love me, excellent people to talk with and learn from, people who reflect back to me and help me right the ship when I need that.

Life is a rich tapestry, indeed.

mood, happiness

Today is a day on which I would rather curl up in bed and sleep than do the million things I need to do. I think I am going to make it my practice to notice positives during the day, even if they’re small. Not to force myself into a different mood, but to take note of beauty, kindness, connection.

Speaking of which, last night was our first curriculum night. I’m still chewing it all over, thinking about it. One thing that really struck me, though, was that they try to keep the kids in the “yellow” mood zone – happy. I wonder. I’m not sure that being happy is a good goal. I think I’d rather they aim for emotional awareness, and teach skills for handling the more challenging emotions, rather than just aiming for happy.

I’d rather we pursue authenticity than happiness, which is elusive and not really something that responds to top-down directives, imo. Though of course, happiness in a broader sense is not just a feeling, but more a multi-layered state of well-being.

Ok, time to stop philosophizing and go off to a chiro appointment.