Motorcycles, Politics, Camping, Sex, Compassion, and Bees

Part One: Bees

Some days we never want to end, others cannot expire soon enough. This past weekend held a little of both, though the good certainly outweighed the bad and the ugly.

As one might surmise from the title, this is going to be a long one, folks, and we’re going to cover a lot of ground (badly, and without much in the way of Organization, might I add.)

Let’s start with the bees, because they’re important, they’re dying all around us, and three of them had important cameos this week. Wait, lies – Let’s start with this weekend’s plans, because they factor into everything.

On Tuesday, I decided to tag along on a group motorcycle camping trip to the Salton Sea from Friday through Sunday. I’d not done motorcycle camping since 1996, and what better way to get back into the swing of things than with a gaggle of other like-minded folks?

Ok, now the bees.

That morning, I had found a very sickly looking bee on my patio furniture. I see dozens of dead bees around my apartment complex, which is always a sad thing. I have to assume there is some kind of pesticide they’re using which is killing them off in tragic droves, one by one, dozen by dozen.  I find them lying on the sidewalk every day. I don’t know what sort of bees they are, or whether they are solitary, but I do know we need every last one of them that’s left on this Earth.

“To understand many things you must reach out of your own condition.”
~Mary Oliver

Thus, when I saw the wee girl on my chaise lounge, I didn’t have much hope of her being alive. I gently blew across her wings, and she reared up into a groggy but distinctly defensive position: Middle legs and stinger raised, wings outstretched, facing this new unknown threat. Immediately after assuming this posture, she lost balance and tumbled onto her side. Oh, dear. Poison? Cold? I have no idea how to distinguish a poisoned bee from one that is simply too cold. I watched her for a few seconds as her legs clumsily churned in slow motion, trying to get her upright.

I can’t stand to see animals suffer; it causes me anguish in a deep, sensitive, delicate area. My first instinct was that she was dying, and that I should end her suffering. That’s such a final solution, though – I wanted to give her the chance to survive. Hoping she was cold and that I could warm her up, I placed my index finger alongside her body so the heat would radiate out to her. She immediately perked up and began scrabbling toward me – not in an aggressive manner, but in a keenly interested one: Her antennae and front legs reached forward ambitiously, her abdomen and stinger remained relaxed.

As quickly as she could, she climbed up onto my finger, legs frequently missing their steps and wobbling with every one, but she got there and then she sat quite still – only her antennae moved, daintily touching my skin, perhaps trying to figure out what I was, whether I was food, or just a heat source.

“This is quite an exercise in trust for us both, isn’t it?” I murmured.

I waited. After perhaps two minutes, her movements became more regular and coordinated, and after a minute more, she adroitly took to the sky where I hope she will live out a normal, healthy bee life. Thursday, the spectacle repeated itself as I found a similarly beleagured bee clinging to the wall near my elevator. She took much longer to come around, but eventually she, too, flew off into the sun. I videod that one, which is probably only of interest to me (and maybe Steven and Leslie:)

I hope this is amongst the right things to do, and isn’t causing them harm or more stress that will lead to terrible things. Thinking back to both of these times makes me feel happy: Altruism serves the self, too.

Flash-forward to Saturday night around a campfire burning in a large metal pit. A pale, half-inch-long spider ran in circles for over an hour along the rim of the pit, sometimes stopping to inquisitively check out its surroundings, but mostly just running around the rim fairly quickly. For awhile, no one else seemed to notice it, then Chuck pointed it out. We wondered why the circles – if it was too hot, why didn’t it simply hop off the edge into the cool darkness? Around and around and around, sometimes at what seemed like its top speed. Others began to notice it and watched.

I was worried someone was going to knock it into the flames – people are so often mindlessly cruel to tiny beings, particularly when we find them distasteful – but as far as I know, nobody did. I watched them watching it, trying to figure out what everyone, arachnid and human, was thinking. Naturally, I’ll never know. At some point, I looked for it, and it was gone – I hope off into the night to hunt some bugs, and not into the flames to briefly wither and then die. I was heartened, though, that at least for a half hour or 45 minutes, the humans elected to let it live. This brings us to:

Part Two: Compassion

We are strong when we show the smallest of beings compassion. Humans, lacking any real predators (though I do hold out hope for the bacteria and viruses to rein us in, perhaps soon,) might think we have little to lose or to gain by stepping on a spider or by putting it outside, unharmed. I posit we have everything to gain through compassion. The simple act of choosing kindness over cruelty or even over neglect actually changes our brain chemistry and our bodies. For the better. You can read a summary of one such study right here: Compassion Meditation. Scientific article here: Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering

Beyond quantifiable results, though, lie the more immediate, personal, less tangible ones: We feel good when we do good.  Some might feel a sort of smug satisfaction when squishing an insect, but is it really a good feeling? Perhaps for some. If you’re someone who likes the idea of Power and Control, what greater satisfaction is there than to have the ability to decide whether something lives or dies? In the grand scheme of things, one spider, one bee, is meaningless to most of us – but it’s pretty fucking important to the spider and to the bee.

Let’s flip this around for those amongst us who aren’t of a mindset to live and let live. Let’s think for a moment about wild dolphins – these are powerful, intelligent animals, capable of quickly, easily, and efficiently killing humans in the water. Seldom does anything ever go wrong when people dive with them, though. Sure, there is the odd, misguided attempt at coupling, or a “rogue” habituated dolphin getting cranky, but most dolphin “attacks” get no worse than this – spoilers, no actual attack occurs, just enjoy:

They could kill us, but they choose not to. There’s a lot of power in that. Wild-animal-related human fatalities typically happen under circumstances that are usually the fault of either that particular person (getting selfies with wildlife, trying to pet or feed wildlife, provoking wildlife, et cetera,) or of People in General (areas where wildlife is often fed, encroaching onto territories, et cetera.)

Predators other than humans don’t tend to attack without cause – the stakes are too high, even for the apex predators (wolves, sharks, bears, et al.) They forever live in a PVP, very permadeath world (non-gamers, click the links to learn the lingo.)

All of us have the physical ability to intentionally harm or kill lesser beings should we so choose. There have been (thankfully rare) times in my past when I was needlessly cruel that to this day cause me the greatest shame I have ever felt. I don’t know why I did the things I did, and I wish more than anything I could go back and not do them. Instead, I have to live with those memories as a reminder of what I was capable of when my worst self took over and beg the forgiveness of a vast universe.

That Ian Malcolm quote, though: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”  We all know how that ended up, don’t we: Velociraptors. Right? Right. The next time you see a spider or an ant that is not especially in your way, choose to let it live and see how that sits with you. I hope it takes, not only to benefit those critters who might otherwise be harmed, but also to benefit you, yourself – walk into the warm light, man; it’s really nice here. For all of us. I promise you won’t be any less of a badass by being kind – in fact, your level of badassitude will increase immensely because you could choose pain or death, and you instead chose kindness and life. That? That is the ultimate in strength.

I have digressed, per usual. My point: Be compassionate, because you can afford to be. It costs nothing to extend kindness, and I suspect that even the most calloused, blackened heart can be warmed through its practice.

Let’s get off this particular soapbox and move on: Part Three: Motorcycles (coming soon…) 

The Vividness of Death

June, 2017

The ends of our lives is often not an easy subject for us to discuss. It is, in many ways, taboo to give off even a whiff of being at peace with no longer being alive. We are supposed to cling to life – anything less is unforgivable.

Friends, I am here today to tell you that I am not afraid of dying. If I were to die Right Now, even if I were aware of what was coming, I would be at peace. I have no attachment to this life, no fear of things not done. I would feel pain for those people who care about me who would be saddened by my passing, but nothing more – even with this amazing new life unfolding before me, it would be ok.

Whether it was being killed in a motorcycle crash or an airline disaster or a heart attack or a shooting – In those final seconds (should I be conscious for them) I will be mentally ok. Curious, maybe nervous, but not afraid.

Why am I saying this? Because, when our friends and loved ones are ripped from us, it is traumatic and horrible for those of us left behind. Even if we know the person is “no longer suffering,” it is difficult not having them here anymore. We miss them. We love them. We try to figure out how to go on without them. We think of something we want to tell them, and can’t. It can be horrible to be left behind.

If we were not present for their passing, and we so often are not, we wonder if they suffered, if they were afraid, if they wished for something, if they had any last words, what their thoughts were. The not knowing is devastating.

I am telling you now: I will have no fear, no personal regrets of magnitude if I cannot carry on.

What I am afraid of, however, is lingering. I am not someone who wishes to be kept alive if my quality of life will be very small. Brain damage? Let me go, man. Paralyzed for life? Same – let me go into that good night.

If there is a solid chance I will come out of a coma, sure, give me a shot – otherwise, if the outlook is grim? Please find a way to make peace with it and let me go.

I understand most people want to stay alive, many at all costs – they have things they want to do, they have responsibilities or children or bucket lists. Are there things I want to do before I die? Sure! But should I die before doing those things, it won’t matter – I will no longer be here to want them.

Rather, I will have moved onto the great mystery – I’ll either know what comes next, or I will cease to exist, and I am very excited about the former, while being completely ok with the latter.

I was until this second certain I had written the following paragraph here or on Facebook, but apparently not. At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll share something that formed and shaped my view on death at a young age:

I first heard that song in 1984 at age 14, and I was so moved by it, so struck by the idea that we don’t have to only be sad or afraid of death, but keenly curious and interested, that it never left me.

Like so many of us, I’m very curious as to what comes after. I am not so much afraid (other than a very small, niggling, irrational concern that Hell might actually be a thing, and I might actually be sent there for not believing in the Christian God) as anticipating. While there are times when death sounds quite peaceful and relaxing, I’m not actively seeking its release. However, I’ve had a few dreams over the years which have been exceptionally vivid and felt 100% real at the time.

There were some that involved being stabbed and bleeding out or falling from an enormous height, but the one that left the deepest impression was this: Walking in a freezing winterscape, I fell into a swiftly-moving river that had ice on the banks and would soon kill me if not by drowning then by hypothermia.

As I was swept along in the current, watching the scenery go by, I had a crystal clear thought: “This is the last thing I am ever going to experience. I really need to pay attention to what’s going on right now, every thought, every feeling, every sight and sound.” It wasn’t a scary thought – just a powerful one. I realized I was about to die and I was ok with it. It was emotional in a sense, but nothing bad, nothing negative.

Many times in dreams, I know I’m dreaming – I’ve had other, lesser dreams that involved something that was going to kill me (falling, usually) but I knew it wasn’t real and therefore didn’t have the same thoughts.

It was intense and peaceful at the same time.

Mostly, I just hope people won’t worry about what went undone in my life: I’ve been so fortunate to have experienced a great many things, I’ve met exceptional people throughout my life, and I have squandered a ton of time. I could have done so much more, but I chose not to. It’s all ok. Promise.

Internalized Misogyny

It wasn’t until Wonder Woman came out that I fully understood how deeply I had been missing legitimate female badass characters on that scale and of that quality. We’ve all been aware of the very few roles that have heretofore fallen into that category because most of the scripts with those types of women also had men that did one of a few things:

1.) Bailed them out when they got in over their heads;
2.) Resented their power and were assholes about it;
3.) Betrayed them and caused them to question everything, ultimately finding the real meaning of love with another man;
4.) Et cetera.

In terms of the writing for the women characters themselves, the badass women were often bitches, hardasses, man-haters, childless, incapable of love, commitment, or relationships, or were just utterly cliche. There were precious, precious few otherwise “normal,” functioning human beings.

Years and years ago, I wrote a blog post about my favorite female characters in media. It begins by saying, “I may not be remembering correctly, but when I was growing up, I don’t recall many totally independent, strong female role models in television.” I want to reach back in time to my thirty-year-old self and pinch her cheeks. “Oh sweetheart,” I would say, “you’re remembering just fine.”

What brings this to mind is watching “Continuum” on Netflix. I’m only a few episodes in, but right from the first minutes of the show, I was struck by the complete normalcy of the lead character’s life outside of her badassedness. She is happily married with a child. Her husband just grins when she beats up a punk on the train and doesn’t try to stop her or back her up in any way – he knows she’s got this and he loves her for it. He just grins and lets her do her thing.

There are other shows now which have similarities: “Game of Thrones,” “Once Upon A Time,” and so forth, and they make me super, super happy. Farther back, “Buffy” did a pretty good job, too. Xena? Ehhh, not so much, really.  “Firefly,” definitely.

This gives not only women something to reinforce what being a strong woman can mean, but it also helps men who might not understand that accepting and embracing a woman’s skill and strength is possible – it doesn’t have to be threatening. Some men of course just know this, but as a society, we do not – men and women alike, generally, don’t understand what’s possible because we have been told these stories since birth.

The media has done its damage to both genders, and part of what it’s done to men is to train them to be misogynistic in many ways, both large and small. Much like how racism is so ingrained in this culture, some of us with the best intentions and mindsets might have these things we feel or think and believe to be true that are only figments of what we’ve been told about race. It’s work to overcome, and such important work at that.

I think it probably takes a lot of mindfulness to be a good man in this world when it comes to women. Everything screams at them to behave in these certain masculine ways to their detriment and to women’s. They’re taught to believe that what I guess I think of as the “frat boy mentality” is the way things should be. Women are taught to believe this, too (myself definitely included,) and that steals away from us. Speaking from a heteronormative perspective here, we’re taught an entirely skewed meaning of sex: It’s the male’s job to convince us to “let them” have sex with us, and it’s our job to deny that unless it’s some kind of reward. We’re taught that denying sex to our partners for any reason will lead to smoldering resentment that will force him into the arms of another woman. “Isn’t it easier to just give in than to worry?”

Louis CK, for all his flaws, is one of my favorite comedians; I think he’s one of the most genuinely funny people alive today. I love watching his shows. In my most favorite of his shows, “Live at the Beacon Theater,” he does a bit on Pussy. You can see it in full here, with an introduction about how hormones make men stupid. The Pussy Bit begins at about 1:45 in. That’s the mentality. About four minutes in, he offers some redeeming thoughts about women having just as much sex drive.

Anyway.

This Saturday morning, I attended the breakfast before our BMW club’s group ride. Typically, breakfast is from 8am until about 9am, and then we ride. Today, things were not wrapping up on time. I found myself wanting to say, “You guys are worse than a bunch of women, let’s GOOOOOOOO,” and realized “… wow. That old saying actually has some important shit behind it that I never really thought about.”

In years past, I thought could utter that phrase “without harm” because I’m a woman – typically the only one present – and it should be funny and perhaps shame the men a bit into action. It must be obvious I don’t really believe all women have this problem, I know better, right?

Wow. There’s so much wrong with that, and I never saw the full scope of it until that day.

First, there’s the obvious dig at women in general because we (I first wrote, “they”) can’t contain their talking to get anything done. Next, there’s a woman saying it, reinforcing that notion. Last big one, it’s implying that men should feel ashamed to be compared to women. How the fucking hell was I so obtuse as to miss these points? Crossed that off my list of go-to phrases.

At the midpoint of the ride, there were four of us left in the group. Two of the men took off their helmets and immediately began combing their hair. Before I could think, “Look at you two, doing up your hair. Worse than women!” spewed out of my mouth and flopped onto the pavement like a dead animal. Everyone had a chuckle, but inside I was filled with shame.

Oh my fucking hells.

I know I’ve said these things countless times in the past; it’s an old habit. Old, stupid, wrongheaded habit (as habits often are.) I had made some similar comment in a group forum probably 20 years ago and another female member said, “wow, internalized misogyny much?” I scoffed, offended. This bitch doesn’t know me, she has no idea. I am, quite clearly, certainly far too self-aware to even entertain the idea of buying into that sort of misogyny. I’m being ironic, I convinced myself. This was before the term “ironic” was obliterated by millennials, mind you, and actually meant “ironic.”

Clearly, this must stop. I can soooooo easily see nuances of racism, but sexism is apparently an enormous blind spot for me – because a large part of me bought into it part and parcel. Some incorrect beliefs about myself, sure, but a huge number of absolutely 100% wrong notions about the entire swath of the female sex.

At my going-away party back in August, I was showing people how to play AudioShield in VR and likened it being like Wonder Woman fending off blows. I asked one of my favorite male friends, “do you want to feel like Wonder Woman,” in a mostly-joking kind of way, with overtones of sarcasm. Without missing a beat, he said, “Hell yes, I do!” and jumped in. Because Nathan is awesome and he knows it would be super fucking cool to be Wonder Woman. [EDIT: After reading this, my longtime friend Alex sent me the following fantastic link: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/halloween-gender-non-conforming-kids_us_59f7712ce4b09b5c25682078?ncid=inblnkushpmg00000009 ]

There are so damned many blind spots, so many nooks and crannies that have been saturated with bullshit for so long, they don’t even recognize it anymore. In March of 2016, I underwent The Great Girly Transformation of eDar: I spontaneously fell in love with clothes and shoes and make-up for no reason I could think of.

This sent me into a tailspinner of an identity crisis, man – a whole bunch of Who I Was had heretofore been tied up in jeans, t-shirts, and engineer boots. Motorcycles. Guns.  Cars. Planes. You know – Guy Shit. <sigh>

Part of me wonders if it’s because I’m a large person, and I perhaps subconsciously gave up on ever being the “perfect” vision of femininity, so I violently and completely rejected all the trappings of it. Maybe I saw the roles and stereotypes and couldn’t figure out how to reconcile those with who I was and wanted to be, and wasn’t bright enough to realize I could blaze my own feminine path. I dunno.

Recently, the universe has, through various means, dictated I now have two pink riding jackets. I’ve come to accept them, despite being wildly uncomfortable at first. I have violently hated pink for most of my life because it is girly. Far too girly for a non-girly girl such as myself, right? I wanted nothing to do with it. (“Internalized misogyny much?”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Indeed, I’ve started actually embracing these pink jackets, and even bought matching pink gloves the other day because fuck yeah I can wear pink and still be a badass. I don’t have to try to disguise myself as Not A Girl – that’s silliness and insanity.

Yesterday, riding home from the club’s Sunday morning excursion, I stopped at a light near my home. I looked to my left and saw a little girl’s face pressed up against the car window, eyes wide, mouth literally agape. She was quite young – maybe six or seven, and she rolled down the window, but didn’t say anything; she just stared, eyebrows up as high as they would go. I grinned and waved at her. She giggled and waved back before hiding under the window. Her very young dad grinned, too.

This happens from time to time – young kids noticing a girl on a motorcycle and just going bonkers with surprise (usually followed by delight.) If I can inspire a few kidlets to shed stereotypes and be awesome? I’m very, very happy with that idea.

When I first starting creating website content for myself circa 1994 (before “blogging” was a word,) my main objective, my mission, was to connect with people and to put myself out there – warts and all – in the hopes of helping other people feel “ok.” Life is not television-show neat. Life is messy and complicated and human beings even more so. Some of my friends at the time objected, thought I was going too far, “showing my ass in public,” as it were, and they were in some cases absolutely right: There is such a thing as TMI sometimes. By and large, though? No regrets. I’ve met some of my closest friends from writing things on the internet.

With the advent of Mommy Blogs, that 1950’s Perfect Housewife mentality began making a resurgence, but a funny thing happened ten or so years after Mommy Blogging became a super lucrative venture: The mommy bloggers who wrote about imperfection, rather than having everything together, started to take off even more than those who portrayed their lives as neat and tidy. People who put their struggles and failures up got more traffic, and more loyal return traffic, than many of their “perfect” competitors. I have no hard data to back this up, mind you – I have over 10 years in the web hosting industry, and my source is purely anecdotal experience.

So, fellow humans, don’t hide, don’t buy into the shame, don’t isolate yourselves out of fear or anxiety. Connect and support and love and indulge and communicate with each other, warts and all. Steal the stigma away from those powerful talismans (mental illness, “embarrassing” health issues, feeling scared or small or like an imposter,) and talk to someone about them. If you don’t have someone in your life you feel won’t judge you, seek the anonymity of the internet (mind the trolls, obviously, but there really are Actual Safe Spaces for just about everything and everyone out there – moderated, supportive places.)

Having, as usually, strayed quite far from my original point, I’ll leave you with this: If anyone would be inclined to talk to me about anything at all, my ears and my heart are always open. I have made so very many bad decisions in my life, I’ve done so many things I regret and am ashamed of, I don’t judge. I can’t – I know what it’s like to be imperfect – it’s my every waking moment. If I seem like I have stuff together, that is an illusion: The Swan Defense – Serene on the surface, paddling like fucking crazy below. You can talk to me if you want. Anytime. <3

Leopard Shark Snorkeling Tour

In about an hour, I’ll be heading up to La Jolla Cove for a leopard shark snorkeling tour which was rescheduled from Saturday due to poor visibility. These sharks are entirely harmless unless provoked, so I’m not even a little bit nervous about them. What I am nervous about, as one might surmise from two posts ago, are Other Sharks, most notably Great Whites.

Thankfully (and very deliberately,) I will be in a group – I don’t know how many will be in it, but I won’t be alone – which reassures me. Safety in numbers, and so on.

In addition to The Shark Issue, I also want to make sure I have basic snorkeling instruction before I go leaping into unknown waters alone: Reading things on the internet can only get one so far. I’m very keen on more snorkeling but have so much to learn. While La Jolla is the hotspot around here for this activity, it is also home to caves and currents and swell and surge and sometimes enormous surf.

There are many huge rocks on the shore into which the surf could gleefully pound a soft mammalian body. This guy below was diving off the rocks into the surf and didn’t get pummeled, but he sure did make me nervous. Look at the action of the water around him:

I’d like to learn where is safer and where to absolutely avoid (other than the caves – nofuckingway am I going into a damn cave in the ocean.  Nope! That’s reeeeeeally way up on my List of Things Which Terrify Me. I watched some videos yesterday of people snorkeling, kayaking, and just swimming in the caves up there, and it made me insanely uneasy – who knows what could be in there? What if a crazy tide/swell/surge comes up? What if I brush up against some horribly poisonous/sharp/spiky cave creature thing? <shudder> All the Nope. For now, at least, and probably for considerable time in the future.


And we’re back! Shark-wise, the tour was a little light (we saw only 5 or 6, and briefly,) but I learned a lot about La Jolla and about snorkeling in general. Benji, our tour guide, met me at Kellogg Park which is right next to the beach. He explained the other two members of the group were running a bit late, so we stood around and talked for awhile. I had brought all of my own gear, so he said, “You’ve obviously got a lot of experience, right?” Ha! I told him it was my first time other than 20 minutes in Mission Bay. and that I’d love all the advice he can give me.

He’s been diving here for about 13 years, and in all that time he has apparently never seen any dangerous sharks at all. Phew. He used to have a huge fear of Great Whites, too, but that has faded over time.

Our companions arrived about 20 minutes late, and Benji said he would extend our time in the water to compensate – very nice guy. They were a very sweet, absolutely beautiful Muslim couple, and the woman had not thought about how to keep her headscarf on in the water. We eventually got things sorted, though, and off into the water we went.

I couldn’t get my wetsuit zipped up for some reason, so I asked Benji to help just as a wave knocked me off-balance in my flippers and down I went. “Pride goeth before a fall, eh?” he chuckled.

As we were wading in, a medium-sized leopard shark cruised slowly by. Strangely, it’s much easier to see them from above the water than below – they appear to be really dark from above the waterline, and not nearly as dark below.

The other woman was having a terrible time with her fins, so Benji and I spent a lot of time on our own while we waited for the other two to catch up or do their own things. Benji was great at spotting wildlife, and asked “Did you see that huge sea bass?” “Did you see that big spiny lobster?” “Did you see that $THING?” and my answer was almost uniformly “…no…”

Turns out the mask I bought isn’t great – it fogs up very quickly and just doesn’t seem to have great optics. Benji switched with me, and from there on out it was a much better, clearer experience.

Visibility didn’t seem fantastic to me, but he said it was actually really good for the area. I think it was disappointing because when I think of snorkeling, I think of the videos I’ve seen of crystal-clear tropical waters, rather than this silty stuff.

As I practiced diving down, I realized my chubby body coupled with a neoprene suit is actually an excellent floatation device – I can’t stay down at all without continuously kicking, and those big leg muscles, of course, burn a lot of oxygen. When I get into better shape, that will be less of a problem for several reasons, but for now, I’ll probably pick up some weights to help keep me down. And a better damn mask. >.<

Right now, sitting still, I can hold my breath for just over a minute before I start getting uncomfortable – that’s not a very long time, and when I’m moving I’m sure it will be cut about in half. I’ve been watching some freediving YouTube videos and am starting to do some breath hold exercises.

My main goal with this tour was learning basic snorkel/ocean safety tidbits – the wildlife was just a nice extra bonus. I did manage to see Garibaldi fish, some kind of small, sandy-colored ray (probably a Round Ray, maybe a Thornback,) sea bass, opal eyes, and other things I didn’t recognize. Benji said there were a bunch of vermillion fish right by me he couldn’t believe I missed. I also didn’t see a small seal that was apparently cruising nearby. Cursed.  I will be going back and I will see these things!

There were enough people on the water to make me feel fairly safe from predators, and the passing thought of dangerous sharks only popped into my head a couple of times. Had I been alone, I’m certain it would have been more paralyzing.

This was the only shark I managed to capture on video. She was almost as long as I was, and was a bit skittish. Still, it was a neat experience, and I’ll definitely go back soon to try my luck again.

The Stuff of Fucking Nightmares

Literally.

I grew up on NOVA and Jacques Cousteau and Cosmos and other wonderful PBS documentaries, so even at a very young age, I understood shark encounters are rare; however, ever since I first saw “Jaws” at a tender elementary school age, I have been terrified and fascinated with sharks, particularly Great Whites.  While I knew it couldn’t possibly be, I was still convinced there were sharks in our inland Michigan lakes, especially on overcast days. I was absolutely certain a dorsal fin would erupt from the bubbles in my bath. And, naturally, huge White sharks patrolled the house at night, mostly circling around my bed in the hopes I would dangle a limb over the edge of the mattress. Relentless shark nightmares haunted me into college, though thankfully I haven’t had one in decades. Cue tonight’s dream agenda, probably. NEVERTHELESS.

Decades of Jacques Cousteau, other documentaries, and countless books, magazines, and scientific journals educated me well about sharks and our best understanding of why they do what they do, but none of this has quite reached my primal, lizard brain, which is content to believe the following: As soon as I set foot into water above my knee, I will be attacked. It is certain. My lizard brain is a stubborn, stubbon asshole.

An irrational fear of sharks was all fine and well when living in Michigan, a place utterly bereft of not only sharks but oceans entirely. Not really a problem. I enjoyed fantasies of “someday” diving with White sharks. In a sturdy cage. No, I have not seen “47 Meters Down,” nor do I plan to until I get more comfortable in the sea. My imagination is too good at inventing horrible things and requires no further fodder.

Here, in San Diego, this fear has become a bit more pressing. Last week, I went up to La Jolla and swam in waters about up to my shoulders. Briefly. Mostly, I stuck to knee-depth shallows. When I was deeper than that, I was very acutely aware of how fragile the human body is, but forced myself to laugh off any thoughts of actually seeing, let alone being nibbled upon by, a shark.

La Jolla is home to a large colony of sea lions and another of harbor seals, so there is sufficient reason for larger Whites to prowl, I suppose. But shallow water is safe water, right? One of my favorite assholes people in the world insists otherwise:

Later, at home and quite safe in my fourth-floor, five-miles-from-the-sea-and-therefore-probably-shark-proof apartment, I did some research. Oh holy fucking shit, you guys. Big, stupid, brain-weasel-feeding mistake. Now, I knew Southern California was a Great White nursery – there are sharks here and lots of them. I assumed, however, they were a goodly ways offshore. AND THEN I SAW THIS:

One sure-fire way to turn my intestines to liquid:

“Attention in the water: This is the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.… You are paddleboarding next to approximately 15 great white sharks.”

Yes, they were pups and juveniles. Yes, juveniles eat fish, not mammals. But seriously – 15 fucking great white sharks at the bloody surf line. That got the ol’ nightmare juices flowing.  Undeterred, I plowed ahead and found this from earlier this year:

A 16-foot great white shark feeds on scarlet, a whale that recently died off the coast of Southern California.

That was a sixteen-footer. At Data Point. Jinkies.

The litany of sightings is enormous, the list of attacks or mistaken identities vastly shorter. The odds of getting bitten, let alone killed, by a shark are infinitesimal. HOWEVER. You want to talk about High Stakes, kidlets? Should that one-off situation happen… well. Nightmare fuel.

I did find this hilarious image taken during a non-hilarious event – fortunately, the surfer was unharmed. Be honest now – if the red circle weren’t there, could you possibly find the shark in this photo?

Given the prevalence of Whites off the coast of South Africa – the big, breaching ones – I can’t imagine anyone ever surfing there. Watch the full video in the link – it’s amazing, and also quite moving as literally everyone on the water immediately came to his rescue, despite the danger to themselves.

The story which is lingering the most in mind is this, which I found just now on a page by the Shark Research Committee:

“On Wednesday, 4 December 1991, commercial urchin diver David Abernathy, age 25, was attacked by a White Shark at Shelter Cove, between Eureka and Fort Bragg in northwestern California (40°01.7’N; 124°05.0’W). Abernathy, accompanied by boat owner Joe Lara and tender Gerald Vickers, had been diving for about six hours. He was dressed in a black wetsuit, hood, boots, swim fins, mask, and weight belt. The diver was attached to a hookah airline and carried an urchin rake. Under a sunny sky, the sea surface was calm with 1-to-2-meter groundswells rolling rhythmically over the sandy ocean floor. Air and water temperatures were estimated at 15ºC and 10ºC, respectively. The water was 8 fathoms deep with visibility of 5 meters.

“Abernathy started his dive day collecting urchins off a reef at the Point Arena Buoy. Picking was consistent, but not as good as other spots in the area, so he decided to try at Black Sands Beach and work his way south. At 1500 hours, he entered the water 100 meters off Abalone Point, near the airport in Shelter Cove. Abernathy and his fellow crew members saw a “single clump of kelp” in open water and maneuvered the boat alongside. Abernathy entered the water. As he started his descent, about 4 meters below the surface, he noted the kelp stipe was attached to the top of a pinnacle that was 5 to 7 meters in width and at least 10 meters in breadth. While slowly descending to the bottom, the diver reported observing “a couple of tons of urchins on this pinnacle.” Upon reaching the bottom, he scouted the area for urchins, then slowly began his ascent. Abernathy had been in the water about six minutes.

“Upon surfacing above the pinnacle, Abernathy spat out his regulator and turned to tell his companions on board the boat to drop anchor. The diver recounted, “When I looked at the guys on the boat their eyes were huge and their mouths wide open.” Lara and Vickers watched in disbelief as a large White Shark surfaced directly behind Abernathy and charged very quickly. The shark struck the diver in the middle of his back and simultaneously bit down, pushing him 2 to 3 meters across the surface of the water.

“Abernathy recalled, “When the shark hit my back, shoving me across the surface, I was spun around. I felt my diving hose become caught in the shark’s mouth as it began pulling me across the surface. I ended up against the shark’s side and could see its gills and enormous gray body. I started thrashing wildly before realizing my legs were not in its mouth. I went limp as the shark continued to pull me across the surface by my hose. My companions later told me that the shark would look me up and down and then lunge at me, bending its head almost back to its tail. Each time it would lunge I was thrown up onto its back. I realized the boat was getting farther and farther away. I started yelling, ‘Come and get me, I’m alive,’ but they were in shock and unable to respond. During the surface struggle, the shark would, from time to time, look over toward my friends on the boat. Finally, after yelling Lara’s name, he snapped out of it and started the boat’s engine. As they headed toward me the shark dived, pulling me five to 10 feet [about 2 to 3 meters] below the surface before my hose was severed. When I surfaced I found the shark had pulled me 75 to 100 feet [about 25 to 30 meters] away from my boat. I started screaming ‘Hurry, hurry!'”

“While Lara and Vickers sped toward Abernathy, they saw the shark surface 20 to 30 meters behind him, then quickly charge. They maneuvered the boat past the diver to cut off the shark’s approach path. In response, the shark sounded and swam under the boat and past the diver. The shark then surfaced, turned and charged Abernathy again. The diver’s perspective, from the water, was no less dramatic.

“He recalled, “Joey [Lara] sped up and they went past me by about 15 feet [5 meters], then reversed abruptly. I thought they were trying to get closer to me until they started screaming, ‘Come on! Come on!’ When I reached the rail of the boat I was unable to pull myself on board. They started yelling, ‘It’s turning around. Hurry!’ as they ran toward me to pull me into the boat. No sooner had I been pulled aboard than a large swirl and splash erupted next to the boat.” Once on board, the three badly shaken men sat down and took stock of Abernathy. As he sat in the bow of the boat, Abernathy told his companions, “I’m whole, I’m whole, I’m whole.” Abernathy and his companions thought the White Shark was 6 to 7 meters in length. The diver’s right swim fin had several slices to its upper surface. David Abernathy was most fortunate to have escaped his White Shark attack with only shattered nerves and several bruises.”

I have been given to understand most shark “attacks” are cases of mistaken identity or are “merely” curiousity, something akin to us touching something unfamiliar to get more information about it. Of course, given our fragility and their strengthy and pointy-toothedness, that’ll cause some damage. Witness:

When dealing with something of this size, which can move so quickly and cause so much damage.. how does one prepare? One uses a cage, preferably, but it’s difficult to surf in a cage. Check this footage of Deep Blue, the largest White caught on film to date  – “We realized immediately that she was very big.” Indeed, behold:

One remarkable shark researcher, Mike Rutzen, actually free-dives with Whites outside a cage, because he has learned their body language. Wow – talk about balls. I’m so awed by this man on all the levels. “Don’t try this yourself,” the video admonishes – NO PROBLEM.

I watched his full documentary about body posture and behavior and was absolutely captivated. If you’re interested in learning how he “puts sharks to sleep,” look up “tonic immobility.”

Most of us aren’t so lucky. From another Shark Committee page:

“It was a pleasant Sunday morning, 20 August 1961. David Vogensen, age 16, decided to go for a swim, accompanied by several friends. They had swum out to a sandbar about 75 meters from the beach and were returning to shore. The young swimmers crossed over a channel to a location about 6 meters from the beach near Salmon Creek, Sonoma County, California (38°20.8’N; 123°04.5’W). It was about 0930 hours and the water was cold and very clear. Vogensen was wearing dark blue swimming trunks.

“He saw the shark swim over the sandbar and parallel the beach until about 10 meters from his location. The youth observed a large dark shape, a few feet below the surface, approaching him head-on. The shark circled Vogensen twice before grasping the lower groin and upper inner thighs of both legs. It held its victim for several seconds before it began mouthing his left leg down to the ankle. The youth was unaware of any sensation of pain, only a great deal of pressure, until his foot went numb. It was then that he knew a shark had bitten him. What he did not know was the extent of his injuries. Vogensen made his way up the beach, where he collapsed, clutching his bloody trunks. From this time until hours later in the hospital, events were unclear to the young man.

“The swimmer was taken by automobile to Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol for emergency trauma care. Following emergency treatment, he was transferred to Hillcrest Hospital in Petaluma. Vogensen had received numerous slash wounds to his groin, with secondary lacerations to his left leg and foot. Several tendons and nerves were traumatized, requiring several hours of surgery to repair. Vogensen’s physicians expected a complete recovery without any physical limitations. The shark’s description and measurements of the wounds are indicative of a 4-meter White Shark.”

First: THIRTEEN-FOOT WHITE SHARK SIX METERS FROM THE BEACH, PEOPLE. That’s less than twenty feet from shore! FUCK! A curious shark of that size, no thank you, please. Mistaken identity or no, I would move to the middle of the damn desert and never touch water again. I would probably sponge-bathe for life.

That Abernathy attack above, though? That, to me, speaks of something else. My imagination says ANGRY KILLER SHARK AFTER PEOPLE, but that’s unlikely. Still, I have to wonder what provoked the animal to continue its attack after realizing what he had was probably not a seal, after all. Maybe because he didn’t get his teeth into Abernathy’s flesh to realize, but one would think it wouldn’t go to that much trouble for a meal unless it was absolutely desperate or irretrievably stupid.

I cannot even fathom what it was like for all parties present, let alone the incredibly lucky survivor. How does one ever swim again? Sleep? Ha!

One would think this might keep me out of the water. Fuck all that. Naturally, what I have done is to sign up for a leopard shark snorkel tour and surfing lessons. I am going to be absolutely terrified the whole time, probably, but at least I won’t be alone.

Until I learn more about The Various Ways the Pacific and Everything In It Is Going to Try to Kill Me, Perhaps Accidentally, I’m sticking to insanely safe solo activities. Mostly. The main risk is my own inexperience/ignorance. For example, in my first swim at La Jolla mentioned above, I got absolutely drilled by the first large-ish wave I encountered because I sort of forgot waves are a bit powerful. This was the sort that hammered me off my feet, into the sand, and dragged me along for what felt like an eternity (but which was actually about 5 seconds.)

The one thing I remembered as I got swept under was to remain calm – I wasn’t going anywhere but back to the beach, after all. I was fairly convinced I’d lose my prescription sunglasses given the perceived violence of the thing, but they miraculously remained on my face.

My first leopard shark tour was supposed to be this past Saturday, but was canceled due to utterly crap visibility (1-2 feet max.) I would have seen nothing. Eager, however, to get into the water and test out the new snorkeling gear, I went to the rather safe Mission Point Beach area, which is heavily-trafficked by swimmers, paddlers, and boats, and is also completely sheltered from the surf by a nice spit of land.

I donned my gear, did the stingray shuffle into waist-deep water (one generally should not just walk across the sand, lest one be stung by a very perturbed ray in our path,) and pushed off. The wetsuit was glorious – I was so warm and barely felt the water at all. The snorkel, mask, and fins all worked exceptionally well. I could make out my hands in front of my face and that was about it. In the video below, it’s pretty impossible to hear me – mostly, just photographic evidence that I’m in waters of unknown depths without the ability to see anything lurking near me. 😀

Sharks absolutely did cross my mind, but they would have so many other targets to choose from before they got to me, I felt almost safe. Quick fun fact: Did you know Sleeper Sharks may live up to 700 years? Wow.

Given the nothing to see, I swam back to shore after 15 or 20 minutes, thoroughly unbitten. Yay. Baby steps, y’all.

Baby steps.

Thursday, I’ll reattempt the shark dive. Saturday, surfing lessons. I kind of love this local shark celebrity: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/communities/san-diego/sd-me-leopard-shark-20170716-story.html

I know Leopard Sharks are completely harmless unless provoked – but it’s not the leopards I’ll be watching anxiously for: Hammerheads; Makos; Great Whites; Seven-gills. While it would be freaking amazing to see one of those, I don’t think I’m quiiiiiiiite ready for that yet. I’m the person who needs to touch the stove to see if it’s hot, and no amount of “no really, they won’t bother you” will placate me until one does, indeed, leave me alone (and even then, I’ll probably assume it was a fluke and that the next one will grab me.)

Fuck you, brain weasels. And, in the incredibly unlikely event of some sort of shark-related mishap occurring, I hope I have the presence of mind to at least appreciate the irony before I either die of a heart attack or am consumed.

Wanderlust Sated

…and various other ramblings

If you follow me on Facebook, you know things are happening very quickly for me right now, and man – I need to write this stuff out to get it all clear in my head. We’re going to cover a lot of material here, and I’m going to digress many times, so I won’t blame a soul if you get three paragraphs in and say “FUKKIT, TLDR.”

One of the roadways in the complex. This, to me, screams CALIFORNIA!

I have somehow managed to stumble through life riding this immense wave of luck on so many levels. When I step back and really look at where I have been, and what I have done… holy shit I have been incredibly fortunate. I am not saying this to brag in any way – I am saying it because I recognize I have not done anything to deserve it; it is LUCK. None of this happened because I earned anything. I have careened, headlong, into the most amazing people, places, and experiences. I am awed to my bones. I am grateful. I feel unworthy.

My day-to-day luck on the little things is often terrible – from the airline lying to me about carry-on sizes to almost losing my luggage to my Lyft driver getting lost several times an nearly getting me a parking ticket to computers loathing and despising me to a laughable first class “upgrade” to catching every red light… these are little things. These, I can handle.

The big stuff, though, and I realize I am tempting fate by saying this aloud, tends work out well. For this, I am thankful and humbled.

This is not a “humble brag,” nor is it fishing for reassurances or compliments –  you guys already take care of me on that front very well. This is honesty – I don’t feel like I deserve you, or some of the good things in my life, but holy wow am I ever glad you have, for reasons I may never comprehend, taken a liking to me. I hope I am able to give some of that back to you – I pour my love into you, I carry you with me in my heart every moment of every day, but I don’t know if that shines through. I surely don’t tell you enough. I let my hermity ways interfere with socializing too often.

The Next Adventure

Because I work from home now, I can live pretty much anywhere on the planet I want (well, anywhere I can afford, anyhow.) While I love the idea of going ex-pat eventually, for now, I’ll stay state-side.

Right now, I’m in San Diego, in this lovely AirBnB house, hosted by a wonderful woman named Jessica. That I got this house at all was pretty much a small miracle unto itself – she is constantly booked, but just happened to be available for the duration of my time here. She is friendly and chatty. Originally from Jalisco, she’s now an American citizen, though that journey unto itself is quite a tale. We bonded quickly, and yesterday, we spent three hours talking while she colored my hair (she runs a hair studio next door.)

I’m here in San Diego (henceforth SDO because Lazy) because I wanted to scout it out as a potential place to move when my current lease is up. I must get out of Michigan. There is no other option. I am so miserable there in that environment – my people have made it fun and wonderful when I’m with them, but the every day of living there is just an ordeal, even with my beautiful friends backing me up. I resent it, because I know there are far better places out there. I have seen them. I’ve lived in some of them.

Riding around with my friend George today, I mentioned I’ve been on anti-depressants for years, but how only recently have I begun to feel Not Depressed.  “Oh, they took years to start working?” he asked. I talked about how the drugs were doing their job just fine, but I wasn’t doing mine – I was just… coasting. I wasn’t doing the things that would make me happy. Increasing my serotonin uptake can’t make me happy in a city where I am miserable, or erase decades of self-doubt and self-loathing: That took a team effort.

This Job, Though

I am so fortunate Justin found me on LinkedIn. I almost didn’t answer him, because who ever gets legit, interesting offers there? I bumbled my way through the technical evaluation and my first few months. I am still not great, but he’s happy with me, and that’s what matters.

This man has my undying loyalty. He is a wonderful person, a generous and kind person, a laid-back and flexible person. He is not perfect, but he is in the top three people for whom I have ever worked.  I will do whatever it takes to keep him happy with me…even if it means… learning Python. <shudder>

This job has, literally, changed my whole life.

Breathing

I’ve noticed over the last few months it’s not just that I don’t feel depressed anymore – I think I’m happy. The weight of financial stresses, the enormous pressure from my last job, the fears of not succeeding at the new job… all of these things have sort of melted away, leaving me able to breathe for the first time in a long time.

George and I have wrestled with many similar issues, but have taken very different paths as a result. I still feel a deep kinship with him, though, as our mental states have a great deal in common. It was really nice talking with someone who understands what it’s like to be chronically troubled in some of the same ways I am.

Over the course of my life, I have met the most amazing people through completely random happenstance.

Motorcycles

I met my Iron Butt friends on a total fluke – I was on a Honda 4-cylinder, single overhead cam motorcycle list, and heard of this “crazy guy” doing a record-breaking long-distance ride visiting all 48 contiguous states on his motorcycle in a ridiculously short period of time. He had a huge network of friends helping him with parts and logistics, but the ride itself was incredible.

My first reaction was, “wow, what a colossally stupid, dangerous thing to do!!” Then I read more. And more. And I joined an email list.

Less than two months later, I rode my first 1000 miles in 24 hours with my friend Troy, going from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Plano, Texas. There, I met icons of the motorcycling world – too many to name. They were warm, welcoming, and immediately adopted me as one of their own. I’ve known these folks for almost 20 years now, and they’re no less wonderful, though living in Michigan has kept me apart from them for a decade.

Two icons of the endurance riding world raising hell in Gerlach.

Thanks to them, the country opened up to me – I never would have considered pushing myself that hard, but once it’s possible to ride 1623 miles in 24 hours (my personal best,) travel becomes Different. I rode to some of the coolest places in the nation, and saw amazing things, thanks to extremely clever (and devious) rallymasters.

Planes

Similarly, in 2004, I walked into the Olympic Air Museum on a whim for a tour, and, on another whim, asked if they needed volunteers. They eagerly said yes, and I was accepted. I gave tours, washed the planes, marshaled air shows, and just generally helped out. Once again, the group took me under their literal and figurative wings, and I ended up not only spending time with, but being tossed around the sky by some of my childhood heroes in the most amazing planes. It boggles me to this day how incredible that summer was.

I was able to arrange a flight in a WWII plane for my dad, an even bigger plane nut than I am, and I will never forget the look on his face when he landed:

Dad Post-Yak Flight

Catalyst

I got to do that for him! One of the things that makes me happiest is being the catalyst for someone else to experience an amazing thing. Whether it’s my dad in a Yak-11, or George piloting a sailboat, or getting Jim a tour of Fifi, or taking Heather on an unscheduled boat ride in the Gulf of Mexico, or getting Wes to finally tear down his garage or giving Adam the bike that Wes gave me… I love making things happen for people. I think I may enjoy that even more than experiencing these things myself.

Historically, when I am not out there being the enzyme, being the catalyst, and I am alone – I shut down. My attention turns inward, and the brain weasels come out to play. Like many people, my childhood scarred me, and left me with baggage I carry to this day, though I am slowly shedding much of it.

Therapy Failures

Some of you have heard the story of my last encounter with therapy. My counselor was a very nice woman, who was very good at what she did. However, I wasn’t ready for our fifth or so session, when she made me look into a mirror while she said nice things about me.

I never went back. I made excuses and cowardly exited the whole process. Like many people, I crave compliments and positive feedback, but when I receive them, I become deeply uncomfortable – self-esteem issues, of course. I have so many narcissistic traits, yet I am completely at war with myself. Thanks, Mom! Thanks, Society! Thanks, people who dragged me down a a young person!

Lately, though? I don’t eat myself alive and tear myself to shreds.

My Saviors

“eDar, you are my favorite planet.”

My amazing group of friends gently, but persistently, pulled me out of that dark place over the course of two years. My friends at Liquid Web and elsewhere really did save me from myself. They filled me so full of love and faith that I had no choice but to accept that maybe… just maybe… I am a person worthy of those sentiments. This has made a huge difference in not only my mindset, but also in how I comport myself. I owe all of you an enormous debt of gratitude.

Unexpected Opportunities

I am a sucker for Stories. I so truly love hearing about peoples’ lives and experiences, things I’ll never see or hear or experience myself. I’ve gotten slightly better at telling stories myself, but I really lack the knack. Toward the end of Jessica doing my hair, she mentioned she belongs to an anti-human-trafficking organization, and asked if I wanted to come with her to a meeting Right Then. Surely!

She told me most of the ladies were older, and so I took about 45 seconds to cast off my Dr. Whisky t-shirt and ratty jeans in favor of a vintage pin-up dress, stockings with ribbons at the heels, and incredibly awesome vintage dancing shoes, hoping to offset the crazy teal-colored hair and tattoos with nice clothes and a kind smile. Jessica has taken some kind of crazy shine to me, calling me “so cute!” and giggling when she introduces me to her friends as her sweet friend “Erin, who wears these clothes and I did her hair and she rides motorcycles!”

When she spoke of this organization, she was surprised I wanted to come to the meeting, because it was “kind of dangerous to be involved.” Her brother-in-law was killed, apparently, for helping some of these women. That just made it all the more appealing to me, in truth – you know me, eDar the Adventurous.

As I drove us to the meeting down the street, I envisioned this kind of cloak-and-dagger scenario, meeting in a dim room off a dark alley, speaking in hushed voices, pulling up case files of the woman who had most recently called the rescue hotline, organizing plans for extracting them from their entrapment… you know, that kind of thing.

Expectations Dashed

I pulled up to the Lemon Grove library, which they had publicly reserved.

We walked in the door, and there were about 20 women present, as well as a snack table in the brightly-lit community room. The average age, myself included, was about 60. I was initially regarded with some strange looks, and some people looked outright hostile about my presence.

Rather than planning emergency escapes, they were planning… a chili cook-off. To raise funds.

They held a drama-fraught election for their Treasurer – “fraught” because there were tense words between the two candidates. The responsibility of their tiny budget was too much to treat any less seriously. I wasn’t supposed to be there for that, which was quite embarrassing for both Jessica and me, but everyone eventually decided this top-secret process was ok for a guest to witness.

They organized organizing their storage unit.

They wrote things down by hand. On paper.

Well, this was certainly not what I expected. This was most definitely not The Front Lines of the Fight in any way, shape, or form. This was a tiny, local, volunteer fund-raising thing. Le sigh. But ok, I’ll roll with it.

One of the things I strive for in life is to be a good ambassador of the things I “represent:” Motorcyclists, tattoo-bearing people, people with crazy hair colors, white people, you name it, I’m going to try to make a good impression and let people know I’m nice to shatter some of the stereotypes. It gives me such pleasure to win someone over who previously regarded me with judgment, and to perhaps help open someone’s eyes that even the “odd” people like me are just folks. This has long been a life mission.

One woman solicited toiletry donations, and I told her I would send her some homemade soaps if she could use them. A few eyebrows raised at my offer – maybe I wasn’t some random punk-rock interloper. Incidentally, I never thought of myself as “punk” at all – but that’s how Jessica has labeled me because of my hair color. She’s so tickled at the color she gave me – “it’s my first punk hair!!”

A short time later, they began discussing their online presence – or rather, their lack thereof – and I offered to host their website for free, to help with tech things, and so forth. People started actually meeting my eyes and smiling.

After the meeting was adjourned, most came up to me to compliment me – not on my offers to help, but rather on my dress, stockings, and hair. They were quite friendly after the meeting was over. The sternest women kept their distance, but by everything holy, I will win them over.

At any rate, this is one example of how things are coming together nicely for this big shift in my life. I want to give back, and an opportunity came at me when I least expected it. Whether it’s the right fit remains to be seen, but it’s a beginning. One of many.

“I will fight and I will love and I will give”

I wrote all of the above last night, and tonight, I saw the film Wonder Woman. I had tears streaming down my face for most of it – it was powerful on so many levels. I have’t stopped being weepy since I left the theater, as I replayed scenes in my head. The line that keeps resonating in my head is the one above: I WILL FIGHT AND I WILL LOVE AND I WILL GIVE.

That is what I try to do, what I want to do: Fight for justice and equality, love unconditionally, give unceasingly, pour myself out into the world. I will keep trying.

Surrendering

For the last six or so months, I have been riding a surging tide of strong emotions. I cry when I least expect it, I love more deeply than I ever have, I am humbled almost to the point of collapsing to my knees at times. Music moves me more than it ever has in every way. I sing.

As I sat in the darkened, comfortable theater tonight, surrounded by three friends and several dozen strangers, I was in tears within the first few moments. In the past, I would have fought them – bitten my cheek, looked away from the screen, thought about hockey, whatever it took to keep my lip from trembling and the tears from spilling over. I never wanted to cry in front of anyone – it was “weak,” and I am not a “pretty crier,” and it would make me “too vulnerable.

I stuffed and squashed and hid all of that as much as humanly possible – until recently. Tonight, I let the tears flow openly to the point of dampening my sweater. My lower lip did what it does when I am profoundly moved. The film stirred and challenged and validated and gratified and comforted. It was immense.

As I drove home to Lemon Grove, my heart was full of something I cannot describe – it was powerful, an enormity, and I had an epiphany: I cannot fight and love and give if I do not also forgive. And so, I sent three lines to my last boyfriend, with whom things did not end well at all. I have carried around bitterness and hurt and anger and resentment and a bizarre sense of gratitude that we had what we did, however short-lived it was:

i forgive you.
despite the lies you told to me and about me, i forgive you.
i release it all, and wish you peace.

It was this person whom I felt rescued me from my dark, imaginary, soul prison. But it wasn’t – it was me. He was, perhaps, the catalyst, but he didn’t rescue me, and no one else could have, either. I rescued myself. He may have provided what I felt was a safe space into which I could emerge, and for that… I am grateful. I am happy to know I can love that deeply, to trust so completely, to make room in my heart, my home, and my life on that level. It is sad that things did not work out – but they so often do not.

I bought this shirt awhile back, and will treasure it always.

I spent decades in that cage, and can only imagine this is what it feels like to be free, what many people must feel like all the time, and it is wonderful.

Things happening quickly

A series of things happened over the last several days:

  • I mentioned to George I was struggling with the logistics of moving my belongings, a car, and two motorcycles to SDO. He offered to drive my car for me, for the price of an airline ticket. Problem solved: I can tow the motorcycles behind the truck.
  • My current lease expires at the end of September, so I planned to move sometime that month. I found a perfect apartment, available August 7th, which they would either a.) hold for me until September, or b.) use my deposit if another, top-floor unit became available before my move. Perfect.
  • When I put my deposit down, I really didn’t know what part of town I was in, relative to anything else; I thought I was quite far out to the northeast – nope. It’s 10 minutes from everything. Five in light traffic. There is a trolley stop at the complex which runs downtown, if I don’t feel like driving. The location is perfect.
  • My adorable, planet-loving friend Luke asked me if he could maybe take over my lease, as his is up in August. Hm. Interesting.
  • This morning, I got a text from my landlady saying they were thinking of selling the house I’m living in, and did I have any plans for staying or leaving? I told her I would be happy to leave in August if she would let me, and also that I had someone interested in taking over my lease and/or renting it next term. She is considering these things.
  • Barring crazy, unforeseen circumstances, SDO will be my home in either two or three months – tops.

My new home

The apartment I will be renting, to me, borders on the absurd. It is so nice, so beautiful, so big… so expensive. It is at the upper limit of my budget…but within my budget. When I first walked into the leasing office, and was looking at the floor plans, I first looked at the smaller two bedrooms as the likely targets. When I saw this one, I said, “wow, I wonder what it must be like to be able to afford that.

Nancy, the agent, and I bonded instantly – that is her job, of course, but you know when someone is being genuine. I was wearing my dia de los muertos skull sweater, she liked it and commented on it, and she was so warm and friendly, she immediately put me at ease. This is a girl I’d like to get to know.

Nancy’s the kind of girl who can get along with anyone, but I like to think maybe we bonded a bit more than the usual agent/client relationship. When I went back for a second viewing, she gave me a big hug, and we chatted about all kinds of things. I just adore her.

The first time we spoke, I didn’t even mention to her that their largest unit was something I would consider – surely there was no way I could afford it. Then she asked what my budget was, and I told her “less than $2800, hopefully.”

Girl,” she began, “why are you not looking at this one?! It is perfect for you.” And she was right – it is.

It is bigger than my house by at least 50%. It is also almost four times more expensive. But this is where I will live and work. It needs to be someplace I love. And I do. The windows and the community and the perks are just… well, better than I should probably have. Photo album here: No Facebook account required.

The unit I’m holding is a third-floor apartment, which doesn’t have the topmost windows in the master bedroom, as it has a slightly lower ceiling. However, Nancy is on the lookout for me if a fourth-floor unit becomes available. My hold can be applied to anything in the complex, thankfully, even something smaller if need be.

There are three fourth-floor units available right now, but those are likely to move before I do.

I put down a deposit to hold the unit. And then I had a minor freak-out about money.

Finances

I know talking about money can make some people uncomfortable, so skip this next section until the bold if you don’t want to see specifics about my finances – trust me, they are not impressive.

I am bad at money – this is no secret. Just when I got myself into a stable financial state, with a credit score over 700 for the first time in over a decade and money in my savings account for the first time ever, I went batshit crazy, turned into a girl, and came damn close to maxing out my credit cards buying clothes, shoes, jewelry, make-up, and toys. I went from a few hundred bucks on my credit cards to over $11,000 in the course of a year.

Since getting this new job in March, however, I have been aggressively paying that down, knowing I needed to move, and soon. Currently, I have less than $5,000 on my cards. I took out a loan at a lower interest than my high-rate retail cards and paid them all off. My remaining bank cards are at 10%, I have about $1,000 six months interest-free on PayPal credit, and less than a grand on Home Depot interest-free until next April. I owe about $850 on one motorcycle.

I’ll have most of that taken care of by the time I move, whether it’s August or September, so I feel like I’ll be ok on that front, and that my credit score will get back to where it should be over the next year or two (it fell to 680 when I opened several new accounts.)

I’m going to meet with a financial consultant to talk about my state of affairs, including my abysmal retirement outlook – at present there is about $50k in my various funds, and I am 46. Not good.

You might say, as George has about a dozen times, “but edar – get a smaller apartment and save more money! Jesus!” And you’d be right… but life is for the living, and I am all about The Moment. Future edar may well fucking hate me for this, but it will be ok. I’ll work until I die, and that will be fine.

SDO in General

When I first saw Seattle, it reached into my soul, gathered me up into its arms, and welcomed me home before I knew I would move there. It was an immediate, intense, passionate connection, and I was a part of it instantly.

SDO did not do that: I initially found it “nice.” I love lush, green things, and jagged mountains, and flowing waters and lakes. SDO doesn’t really have those things (though they’re not terribly far away north.)

However, it does have its own beauty, especially as one moves out into the desert. The mountains aren’t the young, rough, sharp peaks I’m accustomed to: They are old, worn down, eroded, exposed. They are a visual reminder of the immensity of history. They are living evidence of the passage of time.

More important than the landscape, though, are the other things here. Sam and kphelps are 10 minutes away in Lemon Grove. George is two hours north in LA. Chuck is 30 minutes east in Poway. Various other friends I haven’t seen in a small eternity are near or nearish.

Gerlach, and pretty much everything west of the Rockies is a day’s ride away.

The roads are spectacular and perfect for motorcycles, and I can ride year-round. The weather is paradise. The ocean is less than 10 minutes from my apartment, and Kevin has a sailboat harbored there.

And yet…

Remember how my people saved me? Being in SDO means I am not with them, that I will seldom see them. Sure, sure, there is Facebook and Slack and email and whatnot, but I can’t grab Smuj, Cait, and Lilith and go to Jumbeaux for lunch on a whim. I won’t see Han and Forty whenever we like. They will be physically out of reach most of the time.

I won’t hear Nat’s giggle, or see Kev’s eyes, or listen to Jack rail against the evils of customer support, or hear Gary’s genuinely tickled laugh, or hang out with Sarah, or listen to my little spaceman’s fork-bomb stories, or hear tkillian call me “kiddo,” or have Sewell come to me in person for advice or to fix whatever most recent computer plague ails me.

No after-work drinks with Brueggy, or seeing Nicole’s newly-found confident smiles, or having Byerly regale me with tales of his hilarious love life, or getting hugs and dinner with Lexy, or going drinking with Russ and Jordan, or watching ckelly’s man bun mature as he does, or helping out when Jenn gets her lungs, or seeing Stephanie at Jumbeaux, or hearing mattador’s crazy sneezes, or watching Josh L get stupid drunk and silly, or witnessing the many moods of Siena, or calling Jerry a giant Asian man, or standing by and admiring Ani be the powerful being she intensely is.

No seeing dpock’s dancing eyes, or talking politics with Calvin, or having Wineland fix something in 18 seconds flat, or catching up with gamborg, or getting to know John B better, or going riding with Jim and Mary and Brandon and mtodd and Sam and Steven, or watching McBride shuffle around in his sandals in the middle of winter, or tasting Lucia’s cooking, or hearing Tommie’s soothing amazing voice, or hearing Jaspers laugh, or watching Misty tear out her hair at the latest work shenanigans,

No more getting hugs from Alex K, or going riding with Alex O, or going dancing with Deakin, or seeing Cal’s “dammit, edar” face, or watching in amusement as Luke bounds up to me like a giant puppy with his latest ideas in tow, or seeing Shooltz’s smirk, or hearing Bianca agonize over some thing she rrreeeeallly wants, or watching Zack blossom into an amazing adult, or watching mrjung’s face light up when he talks about his passions, or, or, or.

I am leaving so much. But I am also moving toward many things.

Ok. Enough now.

ALL OF THIS CAN BE SUMMED UP THUSLY: BE BOLD, MY FRIENDS – BE BOLD.

Fight, Love, Give.

Do the things. Live it. I can’t say this strongly and loudly enough – BE WHO YOU WANT TO BE. Fuck everything that stands in your way: Find a way around or through it, find a way to be yourself within it, make peace and move on – just do it.

Just a Number

“Age is just a number,” if we are to believe the cliche.

It’s such a lie an alternative fact – technically true as a fact, but “age” is not “just a number;” it encompasses so much more.

I understand the sentiment behind the well-meaning saying, of course; “don’t worry about your age; people don’t judge you by how old you are.” The blissful ignorance of that statement is precious and lovely, but also naive and ignorant in so many circumstances. Hanging out every day, sure – it’s not necessarily on everyone’s minds. On an employment application? Age can mean the difference between getting a job or not.More to my point here, though: Folks, it’s not just the age – it’s the miles. It’s the shit we’ve witnessed and lived through and cried over and laughed at until we couldn’t anymore (often at ourselves.) We have seen absurdity and serenity, abject cruelty and profound compassion, acts of altruism that make us burst into tears from their sheer beauty and acts of hatred that leave us enraged and hopeless.

We have borne witness to events much bigger than any of us are, as well as millions of simple, repeated, everyday moments, and that leaves us with little choice but to expand our awareness, to become mindful of how little we know, and, for many of us, it leaves us with a deep and abiding sense of smallness. Humbleness.

I should note – that humbleness does hibernate at times. I am reasonably certain my ego, if unchecked, would run absolutely amok. You have only the smallest idea.

I know plenty of people younger than I am who look like they were ridden hard and put away wet for decades; the sun, their lives, their kids, illness, jobs – something shriveled them, some from the inside out, some from the outside in. I also know people older than I am who look a decade or more younger.

I’ve been fortunate to apparently have good anti-visible-aging genes, and it probably helps that I’ve never spent a bunch of time sunbathing, or wearing a shitton of chemicals on my face. But the wrinkles are creeping in – first, around my eyes, now a bit around my mouth. It’s making me panic just ever so slightly, just occasionally. Now and then. Infrequently.

For now. I am certain it will increase and intensify if I do not get ahead of this looming trainwreck.

That ego is glancing around the edges of the mirror, finding each and every pore, every imperfection, every scar, every smidgen of evidence I am Not As Young As I Once Was, and she wails in despair. Oh, the unfairness of it all. Youth is wasted on the young! Get off my fucking lawn! Et cetera.

Both helping and hindering reconciling ego with reality is this: Since 2008, the vast majority of people in my life have been significantly younger than I am; I work with primarily twenty-somethings, with a few thirty-somethings peppered in there. Almost no one at my company is 40 years old or older. Most of the kids I work with are remarkably more mature than I ever was at their age – hell, some of them are more mature than I am now – and I have remarked before upon how much they have helped me to grow and develop as a human, for which I am eternally thankful.

I’ve been very fortunate that my team/tribe has been very accepting of an older person in their midst. For a long time, most of them did not realize how large the age gap is between us, but they recognized it was there. Many politely suggested they thought I was in my early-to-mid thirties (thanks, good genes!) and seldom have any of them seemed to really judge me for my age. There have been times when I’ve felt like Jane Goodall – even to the point of having mental conversations/note-taking sessions in that vein:

The young tribe members are wary and uneasy today; I let it slip I had never once in my life played a Sonic the Hedgehog or Mario Brothers game. This was a rookie move; my inclusion has ebbed slightly as a result. I must find a way to regain their trust and once again move with them as a troop member. “Hey, how about those Pokemons?!” did not have the desired effect. I will consult with my source text – The Urban Dictionary – for better vocabulary consistency.

Sure, it’s a source of some good-natured teasing, and a lot of groaning on my part when I realize these people have zero context for formative parts of my life, and indeed, most were not alive before I went to college. It’s sobering. Humbling.

But it’s also helped me come to terms with things much better. I hid my age pretty obsessively until the last few months, when I decided “oh, fuckit. If Dana Delaney can be out and proud about turning 60 and looking fucking amazing, then who am I to keep hiding it?” Out of the mid-life closet I tumbled.

She is 60 years old. Yes, seriously. Right?! She looks a hell of a lot younger than I do.

 

 

 


I am 46.

I spent most of 2015 and 2016 saying I was 46, when I was actually 45, but whatever.

The guy I was dating until about a month ago was 28. The guy before that – 26. My husband was 9 years my junior. Thus, I have a bit of a history with younger men, sure, because I’m fucking surrounded by them and have no life outside of work.

The person who just asked me out is about 24. He’s an insanely mature 24, but I think that is too young even for me, no matter how well-traveled, well-read, ridiculously attractive, and generally amazing he might be. My entire brain balks at that number – nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, NOPE.

Of course, were he to know my age, he’d probably be NOPE-ing right along with me.

Men dating (often significantly) older women is quite a trend now, according to some sources, so I’m apparently not alone, but I’m not entirely comfortable with that large an age gap.

Per usual, I have digressed.

Just as I cannot fathom the perspective of someone 15 years my senior, these kids cannot fathom the things I have seen and done, and why I have answers to many of their questions. Why I can offer seemingly sage advice – it’s not because I am “wise,” my friends; it is because I have made a fuckton of mistakesmany of them more than once. I learned the hard way most of the time. I’ve seen many other people make similar mistakes, and have learned from them, as well.

When older people say, “someday, you’ll understand,” we’re not trying to be patronizing or dismissive of your life experience – we just know it to be true in more cases than not. Just as once cannot innately understand how the Krebs cycle works until we’ve seen it in action and have actually put the time in learning about it, we cannot expect to have the life perspective we’ll have 5 years hence.

Aging, like life in general, is not for the faint of heart. Today, a Physician’s Assistant at my doctor’s office told me (of my extreme sciatic pain,) “ah, you’re almost as old as I am; yeah, this is probably going to keep happening, and it’s probably going to get worse as you age.”

Great! Thanks!!

Naturally, that reminded me (as many things do) of a Louis CK bit:

As a parting note for those of you youngsters reading this: These are all things that have happened while I have been alive (source: http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe70s/worldevents_01.html:)

  • Nixon was President
  • Anwar Sadat became President of Egypt
  • Apollo 15 lands on the moon and uses the Lunar Rover vehicle for the first time.
  • The microprocessor was introduced.
  • The environmentalist group Greenpeace was founded.
  • Watergate
  • Roe v. Wade legalized abortion
  • Beverly Johnson became the first black model on the cover of Vogue or any other major fashion magazine. (Important aside: THAT IS HOW RECENTLY SHIT LIKE THIS HAPPENED. IN MY LIFETIME.)
  • The United States Bicentennial
  • Microsoft and Apple come into being as companies
  • Elvis died
  • The original Star Wars is released… and I watched it in the theater.
  • Jim Jones/Jonestown
  • Three Mile Island
  • Iranian hostage crisis
  • John Lennon killed
  • The wreck of the Titanic is discovered
  • First woman appointed to Supreme Court (not so long ago, eh?)
  • AIDS identified
  • US invades Grenada
  • First woman goes into space
  • Hole in the ozone layer discovered
  • Chernobyl explosion
  • Challenger explosion
  • DNA used for the first time in a criminal case
  • Berlin Wall came down
  • First computer virus reported
  • Exxon Valdez disaster

This brings us to 1990, a time by which most (but certainly not all) of my people were at least born, if not fully aware of the world around them.

I am as susceptible as anyone else to think of “anything that happened before I was around happened forever ago,” (for example, I spent the first 10-15 years of my life thinking Black Americans had been treated like equals for easily 50-75 years – that racism was truly a thing of The Past. Tragic.)

I was about to launch into another whole thing about Trump and the things he’s destroying that we’ve worked so hard for during my lifetime, but I’m spent. Thank your lucky stars. 😉

Sand

What an odd expression, “a line in the sand.”

It has unclear origins, historically, and may be based entirely upon a misunderstanding of words Jesus is said to have spoken.

The thing about sands is they shift. They move with the slightest breeze. 

A line in the sand is quickly blurred, and soon eradicated altogether. A gust of wind, a small wave, a footstep – gone.

Ironically, I have found my line in the sand; I know what it is – at least for the moment, I do. As I have learned over the last three days, “having made up my mind” is suddenly a fluid state of being. I am certain one moment, uncertain the next, and certain of another thing four moments hence.

The gods are having a field day with my life right now, laughing uproariously as I struggle to get a handle on this rapidly-changing, constantly unfolding trainwreck. “Look,” they cackle; “she thinks she’s got it now! Wait, wait – hold my beer,” and they throw something absolutely ludicrous into the mix.

I take the blow, smash face-first into the floor, blink in abject confusion, and then stand back up again, reassessing, beginning the whole process anew, but with different rules, different information, and a deck stacked against me – the deck I myself shuffled, and either subconsciously stacked badly, or just had my usual horrifically bad luck with random number games.

This is all my own doing. I knew going in that it was a bad idea – but I didn’t realize I was going to be the one to suddenly have the shoe on the other foot. My mood this very second is nothing short of absurd – I have tripped an emotional circuit breaker of one sort or another, unplugged my ego, and am being controlled by whatever inmates run rampant in my head when I’m not at the wheel.

I keep hearing this quote from WKRP in Cincinnati back in 1979 running through my head – Johnny Fever is … doing something dumb, I assume. Someone says, “let the chips fall where they may!” to which Johnny replies, “wait… I’m the chips!”  Later, as the story unfolds, things get tense, and he murmurs in a very scared voice, “chips are falling!”

Welp – I’m both the chips and the thing making them fall here.

All of this is maddeningly vague, I’m sorry. I can’t go into details for more reasons than you can imagine, but these last three days have been a rollercoaster from the depths of hell. A ride of Shakespearean proportion. I half envision a Greek chorus following me around, providing foreshadowing to the audience – none of which I can hear, of course, because the actors don’t know about the chorus.

The irony won’t stop – it steps up its game every time I think things cannot get any more unreal.

I’ve said this many time before, and I’ll say it again – life is not for cowards. My heart-like place is just chaos – it doesn’t know what it is, what it’s for, where it’s going, why it’s here, or whether it’s even a real thing. It is simultaneously dust, and glass, and stone, and tender flesh. This is my life right now.

Unsurprisingly, from the time I began this post until now, the sands have shifted and my line is … if not gone entirely, then certainly blurred all to hell and gone. FOR THE CRAZIEST FUCKING REASON: The least likely person on the planet, almost totally literally, has put my mind at more ease than anyone else has been able to do thus far. We were having two entirely different conversations, depending upon which perspective one took, and it all worked out beautifully for both of us. And I’m at peace. For the moment, of course.

It could be matter of days, hours, or nanoseconds before I am ripped out of this “everything is hilarious/fine” mode – I’m guessing a matter of less than an hour, given the material at hand (buckle up, babycakes!!) – and then who knows what’s next. And then after that. And after that. How long can I keep this up?

Answer: Until I either don’t have to, or until I can’t.

Fuck, I wish I could go into more detail, and maybe someday, I can. But for now – just laugh with me, friends, and wish peace upon my soul. I need both.

Loyalty

loyalty

This is a difficult post to write, because I am going to reveal one of the biggest character flaws I have carried with me throughout my entire life. I’m working on overcoming it, but haven’t won yet. For most of my life… I never understood true Loyalty as anything other than an abstract concept.

This explains a lot, doesn’t it? I’m sorry. Truly.

Growing up, I didn’t learn a lot of the lessons, behaviors, and mindsets most people take for granted. As an only child, I naturally missed out on what it feels like to have a sibling; in our household, though, that was further compounded by a lot of unhealthy family dynamics. Not only didn’t I have a sibling to talk to, but my family just… didn’t talk. I remember having my first high school boyfriend over for dinner, and how shocked he was we just sat and ate and didn’t really say anything. Granted, he was coming from a family of 10, so dinners were largely chaos, but when he said that, it was the first inkling I had that something was odd in my family. I was fourteen at the time. Little did I know how many other things I took as natural and normal would be revealed over the years to be completely insane at worst, really dysfunctional at best.

The issue I’ve been focusing on immensely of late is Loyalty: I didn’t grow up with anyone who always, always had my back – including my parents. My mother would turn on me like a snake when I made a mistake, or when someone perceived me as having done or said something wrong. She believed anyone else over me (which then led to years of me lying about just about any mistake I made in an attempt to seem like a good child, even when it could be easily proven I had lied.)

I’m sure she took my side once in awhile, but I cannot think of a single instance when she actually did – I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt here by assuming she did sometimes.

Where some parents turn into mother bears when their children are attacked or criticized, my mother joined in. Not only did she judge me, demoralize me, and berate me, but she would call my grandparents (and even some of her own friends, or the parents of my friends) to shame me by regaling them with the tales of my escapades – they were always “escapades” – with more than a trace of vicious glee in her voice. She would backbite my father and me at what I perceived to be every possible opportunity.

She would say nice things about me to others when it made her look good. When she focused on my faults, she played herself as the victim of a horrid child (incidentally, she had absolutely no idea how good I was, compared to how bad I could have been: I was a damned good kid.)

She was inconsistent in every way. Everything was conditional. My relationship with her was always on this crazy knife’s edge – there were a number of times when she “disowned me” during or after an argument or incident. In 2007, I temporarily moved into her house while I was trying to get myself established after coming home from Washington state. It was a fiasco, a nightmare for both of us, and I admit I was not easy to live with due to how miserable I was there. In her classic dramatic fashion, though, she waited until Thanksgiving Day to throw me out, and I was required to be out that night.

Some of this is not her fault. She is histrionic, she has Borderline Personality Disorder, and she is a very intelligent woman – she obtained her PhD in psychology and developed a successful practice. I suppose I can’t say she’s intelligent anymore after her brain injury… but that’s another thing entirely. She has … a complex mental situation going on, most of which has been there since before her accident.

I know she is the product of her own upbringing, her own dysfunctional environment, and I try to be as mindful of that as possible. It’s difficult, though, trying to extend grace to a woman who has destroyed me as a person in so many ways from the moment I was born until I broke off all contact with her a couple of years ago.

As the oldest child of an alcoholic father and codependent mother, and as a sexual abuse survivor, she curried favor wherever and however she could: It was a survival mechanism. As much as I can understand that intellectually, I still cannot truly come to terms with forgiving her for continuing those behaviors as an adult, and for teaching me to live as she did. Indeed, I cannot forgive myself for following her example for decades, because I literally didn’t know any better. I was oblivious.

I feel as if my dad had some loyalty, but he was neck-deep in his own trials with my mother, and I suspect that sucked most of the life and energy out of him. Today, I know (intellectually) he will defend me; but emotionally, it hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

Thus, my primary role model for such things, my mother, was terrible. I never learned that family irrefutably, unquestionably, has my back. I didn’t even realize that was a thing until I started seeing it amongst other families – in college – and it didn’t even sink in then as a behavior in which I myself could engage. I saw parents, siblings, spouses, and friends standing up for their loved ones – even when their loved ones were wrong. They stood by and defended, rather than pile on and henpeck. They surrounded that person emotionally, helped him or her to feel better, despite whatever was going on. How does that even work?

What a feeling that must be, knowing with complete faith and confidence that someone is going to be on your side. I’m pretty sure I had that with Mike, but not knowing to look for it, I never saw or understood it. Unconditional love – what a concept.

Sadly, I learned my mother’s way of doing things. It takes a lot of work to overcome that, even to this day. I’m still unlearning the old, learning the new. That is really embarrassing to admit: At my age, I don’t know how to person!

Don’t get me wrong – I love and have loved people deeply. I was just missing a key component of what that love should include, and how to receive that aspect of it.

The people I have in my life right now are wonderful examples to learn from, though. Seeing best friends steadfastly supporting each other, witnessing spouses finding strength together, hearing my own friends saying kind things about me when they don’t know it will come back to me… these blow my mind. It is an amazing thing I thought only existed on television.

The end result is this: I am a social and relationship moron.

I have spent my entirely life feeling almost entirely alone in my thoughts, feelings, and experiences, when in truth, the only thing I’ve been alone in is my mind. People have reached out to me – I just didn’t know the extent of what they were offering, because I didn’t speak the language.

I’m getting a small grasp on it now, day by day, lesson by lesson. Becoming a supervisor a few years ago helped immensely – I knew it was my job to support, protect, and defend my team more than any other function I might have. Because it was in a professional (and not personal) context, it was somehow easier to develop the skills from scratch. Thankfully, this helped me to become a more loyal person on the whole – not just at work. It helped me to develop new neural pathways which led away from the bitter emptiness of speaking more ill than good.

To everyone I have ever known – I apologize humbly and sincerely for my shortcomings, in this area and in every other. I hope I am worthy of forgiveness.

Thank you to those of you who have tried, and who continue to try, to turn me into A Real Human. There may be hope for me yet. <3