Tales of an Introvert: Let’s Talk About Relationships, Shall We?

This week, I have had to deal with a sudden abrupt understanding that more people than I was aware of think something is wrong with me. Apparently, I am broken and need to be fixed. I am a woman lacking- something. What this translated to was very well-meaning and thoroughly offensive sermons about how I just need to put myself out there, because being single is – sure, it’s ok, but it’s hardly ideal or really preferential, right? No one would be single by choice. And I received well-meaning advice on how finding A somebody is easy and it’s better on that side of things.

But here’s the thing- it’s not better. It’s not better Over There Somewhere in the nebulous relationship area, unless you’re actually dating and/or committed to someone you love and care for and are actively invested in. Then yeah, I can see that as better than being alone. But a warm body? Isn’t a relationship. It’s little more than a repository, a place where detritus and memory is stored in the short-term. And if that’s what you’re looking for, that’s fine; but don’t act like it’s better than what I have going on.

What do I have going on? Peace and quiet. Freedom. Independence. The time to pursue my own interests, hobbies, friendships and happinesses that don’t require accommodating or accounting for another person. If another person shows up that makes me want to share my time and space with him and who I feel real love and companionship for, that’s one thing. But to have someone just to have him, to not be so dreadfully alone? Is completely another.

This is the thing I think other people, those who cannot comprehend this, don’t get: I like being alone. I crave it. When I finally get time to myself after a long day or a long week, to putter around my house and do chores, make dinner or read a book or zone out to a TV show? It feels like I’m suddenly breathing after holding my breath all day. Constant interaction with people, the level of energy I’m required to expel in a day at work- by the end of it, I feel like a shadow, staring up at people from a well.

I have always been like this. I didn’t develop this as a teenager or in college. I have always been the quiet, wide-eyed kid who kept to the background, horrified at the idea of being in the middle of a crowd, surrounded by people, forced to smile and talk and be On. I’m older and wiser and do enjoy people and being around them, but it still is very taxing on me and I still retreat into shyness to escape loud situations and large groups of people. It’s not actual shyness- it’s a strong overwhelming desire to not have people in my face, demanding my attention and time. My entire body subconsciously cringes, “please don’t talk to me. Please, please don’t talk to me.”

These things I know to be true. They curl up in the center of my soul with the freely given fragments of all the people I have loved and will ever love:

I learned to write before I learned to talk. By that I mean: the first time I heard my voice, it came out of a pen and sang across the paper under my hand. It stared up at me and echoed clearly in my mind as mine and me and true. It would take many more years before the mine and me and true ever parted my lips and it took a bone-deep grief to cut it out of my throat. I have always been happiest in my head, listening to the world and my voice have their own conversations, whispering soliloquies back and forth.

I remember being a child – maybe 7 or 8 years old – and just feeling out of sorts. I don’t remember why. Likely it had been a long day and I was overwhelmed by it. I drifted out of my house, across the driveway and into my grandparents’ house, where I stayed for a short while, and then left again. On my walk back home, I veered suddenly for the motor-home my grandfather had parked in front of the houses – likely being aired out for an upcoming camping trip after a wet winter – and I pulled open the screen door, crawled in, closed it behind me and laid down on one of the kitchen table benches- a hard plank of wood covered by a threadbare orange floral-print cushion. It wasn’t comfortable, but I stayed there until my father came to look for me, how much later I couldn’t say. When he asked me why I was out there – his tone edging annoyed, because I had scared him – I told him I didn’t know. I just wanted to be alone.

When I was in high school, my best friend and I somehow convinced our parents that we needed to go on a school trip to travel around the UK. We were 16/17 at the time and proceeded to go insane as soon as we left the States (stories for another time). We were stuck in a bus 70% of the time, at historical/tour sites 10% and in hotel rooms with each other the other 20%. By day three of the two-week trip, I was a squirrel clawing at the walls to get out, ready to chew off my leg if it meant escape. I wandered off on my own several times just to get away. One time, a couple of sketchy guys followed me back to my hotel in the middle of the night and the front desk clerk had to chase them off. Another time, I scaled a crumbling wall at Blarney Castle and walked around a gated community full of large manor homes; I eventually found my tour group at a pub after disappearing for over an hour. I was officially put on watch after I got lost so badly flying solo in Salisbury that I delayed the tour a good twenty minutes while they tried to find me. (Mobile phones have done many good things for the world – this was before that time.)

I am glad to be in a crowd as long as there is no expectation for me to exist as part of it, to be a participant. If I’m free to glide through it on my way to my own destination, I am pleased to be there. I travel on my own- I hike on my own- I run on my own- I go to movies on my own. I spent three months living in London primarily in quiet solitude broken up by classes and cultural awareness events, knowing no one in the program before I boarded the plane. Some weekends, I would get on a tube line and ride it from one end to the other, a book in my lap, and explore whatever part of the city that I was suddenly dropped into. I was 19 at the time.

And in all this, in my experiences and choices, I am very, very happy with my life and who I am as a person. My life does not feel like less, because I’m not in a relationship. For me, being in a relationship isn’t a thing to attain, but a choice I make. And if I’m selfish and choose myself until someone comes along that makes me want to choose him instead, who am I really hurting? Why does anyone care? Why does the well-meaning advice automatically assume that, because I am single, that I am wanting and without? If I can respect your decision to actively seek a relationship or to date someone who has insubstantial meaning to you just to stave off loneliness, aren’t I allowed the same respect for the decisions I make?

It’s my life, it’s my heart and it’s my choice. Your judgment is not welcome here.

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Dear Lee Pace,

Hey, great to see you in all these movies! I’m glad you’ve broken through and all that, but…. Look, I don’t want to use the word hacky. I’ve loved you in just about everything I’ve seen you in, but as a villain, you go balls to the wall in a not charming or terribly layered way. Ronin was pretty one note, you know? I know that seems silly but after Loki, the bar is pretty high to not just play a villain flat. All I ask is you not fully abandon your quirky indie roots, ok? You’re just so excellent when you have a complete character to play, it’d be a shame to see you go full blockbuster mode.

But seriously, congratulations! Good job, man!

Much love-

Experience

I’ve been dancing around a couple posts recently, not able to find the best approach to what is likely to be a contentious topic, even when discussing it with myself. (I make no illusions that I’m doing anything more than talking to myself.) I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege, but specifically White Privilege, Male Privilege and Straight Privilege. These aren’t topics to breach lightly, as the wrong tone or footfall can lead to defensiveness and self-righteousness. By nature, we are going to reject anything that tells us our hard work is actually not all that hard. That by being born in a specific body with specific settings gave any of us a cheat code. It cheapens personal victories and it feels unfair.

So you see, I’ve been looking at this from different angles, trying to find the right way in, so that I don’t take on the position of the blind leading the blind, but I also don’t fall into trying to discredit other people’s perceptions to protect my own.

Then I read something the other day, in response to a brilliant Daily Show piece about sexual assaults on college campuses. Someone posted a comment on the video, “Jordan plays the part perfectly. He honestly seems to be surprised that his experiences are not everyone’s experiences.”

Shortly thereafter, I was talking to a guy friend of mine who is an engineer in the technology industry. Speaking to this person, aware of this industry as it is, I thought we were operating from the same understanding of circumstances. So trying to answer his questions about Rape Culture should be easy, right?

Wrong.

I was accused of preaching and told that it’s not fair to him that his choices are either to acknowledge that it exists or be complicit in it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Lots of things aren’t fair. Being vaguely wary of every man I meet on the street isn’t fair. Being told my real value lies in my beauty and that to fail at an impossible ideal is to fail at being a woman isn’t fair. To chase after that beauty and potentially attain it, only to have it thrown back at me and told I’m a slut or a whore isn’t terribly fair either. For it to be commonplace for my intelligence and humor to be the least valued things about me in society, even though they are the most valued by me personally- that’s pretty fucking unfair.

Being a victim of your own white, straight maleness, because people keep telling you what a relatively safe position you operate from is defensiveness. It’s a refusal to understand that your experiences are not everyone’s experiences and if you are trying to understand something that you will never have first hand experience in, you need to leave that knee jerk reactionary defensiveness at the door.

If you cannot acknowledge that reality is not the same for everyone, then you will not be able to learn anything from anything anyone tries to tell you. You will find a way to explain everything under the paradigm that you understand to be true or you will reject it as simply not true. You will stay in your safe position unchallenged.

The kernel of all of these conversations is experience- personal experience that is such a commonplace one to individuals that it becomes a cultural experience that can be examined and, if not fully understood (in many things, only first hand experience can allow you to ever really understand something), then at least discussed critically.

Your experiences make up your reality. And your reality is legitimate. It is true. Just because someone else doesn’t understand it doesn’t make it less true.

So, this is my experience. This is my reality and many women’s realities; I struggle with it on a daily basis. I fight to not become bitter over it; I fight to prove I’m worth more than what I’ve been taught to think- I rage against the machine and promise myself everyday that my life will be bigger and better and more meaningful than the box I was told to put it in, the box that has tiny dresses and a large wedding with a generically handsome man and lots of little babies drawn on the outside of it.

And everyday, I am reminded, in big and small ways, that I am failing at what I was taught to strive for. I’m not thin enough, I’m not tan enough, my teeth aren’t white enough, I have too much hair on my body, I should spend more time on my make-up in the morning, I need to exercise more, I need to be more fashionable- this jeans and t-shirt thing is embarassing – I’m almost thirty, why aren’t I married? Why aren’t I in a relationship and planning to get married?

Why am I such a disappointment?

But then I see the women I’m supposed to want to be, and they are torsos in thongs. They are hangers. They are tits and butts without faces. They are supposed to be aspirational for men and women alike, and yet they are terrifying.

I am angry, all the time.

I – and every single woman on this planet, just as every single man and everyone inbetween – deserve to be allowed to be a person. I should get to want things that aren’t about the size of my waist or the number of zeros in my potential spouse’s salary. I should get to feel like I deserve to be loved and seek that love without secretly thinking that I’m not good enough, because I don’t fit this concept of Desirable Woman. And mostly, I shouldn’t have to be scared all the time.

So maybe these conversations need to be pried out of the topics they are hiding under. Maybe we need to not talk about White Privilege and Rape Culture and the heavy, charged words these important cultural failings are cloaked in. Maybe we need to come back to a place we can all understand.

Let’s talk about our experiences. And then maybe, we’ll be able to see each other clearly.

My Memory Plays The Song of You

My grandmother died on May 31, 2009. I last spoke to her a few days before she slipped into the coma she never came out of. I was sitting at her bedside and I looked over to see her eyes were open. Her hands were in the air all the time then, like she was playing the piano. They drifted up and down, back and forth, with no real rhyme or reason, just a constant unwavering motion. When I saw she was looking at me, I took one of her hands from the air and smiled. I asked her how she was feeling.

She said she was on a motorcycle. She was with someone and she didn’t know where she was going, but she didn’t like it. I didn’t know what to say, so I just smiled again and told her it would probably be a great adventure. Maybe, she said. Her eyes shifted away and I knew I wasn’t there for her anymore. I kept holding her hand anyway. “Maybe,” is the last thing I ever heard her say.

The last time I spoke to her when she was lucid, it was Memorial Day weekend. I didn’t and still don’t handle intensely emotional situations well. I run away. I always run away. So I got it into my head that even with Hospice hovering around her house, I needed to go away. I planned to take a long car trip and when I come back, I’d be able to handle it. We said our goodbyes, crying and hugging – my leaning over her bed so I could hug her, because she was too weak to sit up by this point, – we said we loved each other and I left.

I made it to the edge of the peninsula before I had to pull over, because I couldn’t stop crying. So I went back. However strong I wasn’t, I couldn’t be anywhere else.

When I got back, she was sleeping and when she woke up, I was sitting next to her, watching TV and resting my hand on her wrist as gently as I could so I wouldn’t wake her up. She asked me why I came back and I told her there were a lot of cops on the road and it seemed like a bad omen. We watched Kung-Fu Panda and I never let go of her.

For those of you who are both poor and lucky and have yet to be initiated in the process of death and grieving, I should tell you – the vigil is not about witnessing. It’s not even about making peace. At least, for me, it was about greedily hoarding every last minute I would be allowed. It’s like saving up pennies. One may not mean much, but hundreds and thousands make up a whole lot of something.

It’s five years later and I still cry when I think about her. The pain still takes my breath away.

There are days when I wake up and my first thought is how much I still miss her. That this isn’t a thing that goes away; it sits, waiting for a weak moment or a stressful day and then it reminds me in my vulnerable state that I also don’t have one of the most important people in my life within arm’s reach anymore. I think how I would give my eyeteeth just to be able to sit down and talk to her again. Maybe say goodbye in a way that I could understand and accept as goodbye. Because now, still, my grief eats me whole. I brush against it and it sticks to me like molasses and it deadens the nerve endings in my skin. I can’t – I haven’t – allowed myself to tumble down that rabbit hole. I don’t know where the bottom is and that scares me. It feels endless.

This is the closest I will get to goodbye, though I know I will never really say it or mean it. These are the things that hang at the edges of my grief. In my own way, this is the eulogy come five years late and it’s still not enough to honor her.

Many people will sit in the pantheon of the most important influences and relationships in my life, but she will sit in the front and center. She was my first and best friend, my confidante, my biggest supporter, the one person I felt completely accepted by even as a child, an exceptional role model who taught me kindness, compassion and generosity through example, and to my eternal gratitude, the woman I was lucky enough to have as my grandmother. She believed in me when I didn’t yet know how to believe in myself and no matter what bewildering plan I was contemplating (of which I always have many), she was the first to sign on. She lives in my heart. She is always with me. It’s not the same, but it has to be enough. The woman I am today would not – could not – exist without her.

I grew up on the same land as my grandmother lived, in the house next to hers, in the room she grew up in herself. Every memory I have of my childhood is wrapped up in her.

We used to play cards and talk for hours, often about nothing in particular, in her kitchen. We would start playing early in the evening and call it done when the sky was fully black. Our favorite games were Rummy and King’s Corners.

I would take her to run errands when I was on school breaks and when I worked the night shift. I still have a strong aversion to Costco, though I continue to pay for the yearly membership.

She taught me how to drive, and strangely still got back into the car with me, even after I confused left and right at a stop sign.

I’d help her pick out the yearly Christmas ornaments that all the grandkids got, which is when the blue fish motif started (I’m now in possession of two blue fish ornaments, a blue fish wind chime and a black rock paperweight painted with blue fish – the last two gifts I gave to her that I inherited back).

One of my favorite things to do still is to gossip endlessly about whomever or whatever. She enjoyed watching Nancy Grace. That is the first and last time I will ever write a sentence like that.

Up through my teenage years, I would sit on her back patio with her and shuck corn or snap peas fresh from the garden.

During the summers, around the time the garden planting was going on, the grandchildren would be sent out, en masse, to pick blackberries from the bushes in the orchard so she could make jam preserves. Blackberry jam is still my favorite (but only with seeds). Incidentally, we always had way too much grape jelly, but I don’t remember her ever making it. We had green grapes on the property and they always seemed sour and unripe.

She had a green stone attached to a penny by a small chain. It was her pendulum. She used to test her new medications by holding her pendulum over them and letting the way it swung tell her whether or not she should take it. It is the most Her thing that isn’t physically her. I wore it around my neck everyday for the first three years after her death. It’s too precious to me to wear everyday now – I worry about losing it or someone taking it. I only wear it on her days – her birthday or her rememberance day – or on days I need her close.

One of my very favorite memories of her though is from a camping trip. I don’t remember where we are or where we were going or how old I was other than “young,” but I do remember we were sleeping in the loft bed in the old motorhome we’d go for trips in throughout my childhood. I was awake, because when I was very young, I had trouble sleeping in places I wasn’t familiar with and I was scared of the dark (I’m still a little scared of the dark, truth be told). Gram was fast asleep.

And as I lay there in the dark, unable to sleep, I noticed something moving over my eyes. I pulled back the curtain on the window to let some light in and saw it was a spider. I don’t mind spiders out in nature, I will not abide them in my home and I cannot handle one that close to my face, no matter what age.

So I very quietly, I thought, whispered to my grandmother in the darkness and shook her. I must have sounded panicked, because she jerked straight up out of her sleep and slammed her head against the roof of the motorhome. I don’t remember if she swore or not, but it would have definitely been warranted.

Holding her head in both hands, she asked me what was wrong. I very meekly pointed at the spider that had almost made it to the wall I was laying near and said, “spider.” She sighed, smacked the spider with her hand, slid her hand across the ceiling and wiped its body on the top of the comforter. “Thank you,” I said, still meekly. The conversation followed-

Gram: Why are you awake?

Me: I couldn’t sleep.

Gram: You know, that little spider wouldn’t have hurt you. He was on his way home to his little spider wife and his little spider children and now they won’t know where he is and they’ll never see him again. Isn’t that sad? Don’t you feel bad? If you’d been asleep, he would be home with his family now.

At the time, I was cowed and a little sorry. Now I think it’s hilarious.

One of Gram’s best memories, I think, was when she was traveling alone. She and Papa had already been married for years, and she was taking a solo trip up north, though I don’t remember why (and I feel sorry for that). She had a CB radio in the car, because my grandparents were both volunteer firefighters and went on long road trips. She was listening to it when she heard two truck drivers talk to each other. One’s brakes had gone out and they were coming down a hill near where my grandmother was driving. The truck with brakes was trying to help slow the other one down. How they were doing this, I do not know.

But my grandmother, being my grandmother and being the wonderful person she was, found the two drivers, threw her hazard lights on and followed behind them down the hill until they were able to pull off at a safe place. She continued on her way and as she drove off, they both blew their horns at her – in thanks, I have no doubt.

Because that’s who my grandmother was. It wasn’t ever about what you could do for her, but what she could do for you. How could she make your life better? Her time? Her energy? Her affection? Her advice? Her ear? Her money? It didn’t matter. If you just needed to be mad, she let you be mad. If you needed a friend, she would write you letters and call you and make sure you knew someone cared. If you needed someone to sell tickets or make a dessert for a fundraiser or teach children about growing plants, she would be there.

And that’s who my grandmother was to me. She was always there, in the best possible way, loving you for exactly the person you were, but rooting for you to find the way to the incredible person she knew you could be. She always had an incomprehensible amount of faith in others. It didn’t matter how many times she had been burned by that faith, she continued to believe in the best versions of others.

For the uninitiated, you poor and lucky people, you should know this too – you never miss someone less, not someone you truly love. It just stops surprising you so badly that you have to now.

Thank you, Gram.

I love you.

Dear Everyone,

This is a thing that worries me – that being overweight or underweight are places that people feel they can comment. That our bodies are areas for discussion, as if they are public property, when in reality, they are the most personal and private thing we will every possess as individuals. And it seems this conversation is often framed as being unhealthy is what is unattractive. That you are unattractive because you are unhealthy. That it is not a strange external pressure that is molding you into a shape, but that everyone feels deeply for your personal well being. It’s an altruistic way to dress up shallow concepts.

Unhealthy and unattractive are not the same thing. You can be unhealthy and someone will still find you attractive. You can be healthy and a person can find you unattractive. Those two things are not corollaries. Applying a one size fits all stereotype to attraction is really one of the dumbest things we can do to each other and ourselves. Some people are attracted to the same gender, a specific ethnicity, a larger than average body type – at the end of the day, I hope that it’s not the body you love, but the person who pilots it. Let the appearance that piques your interest be from the soul casting light on the inside. Beauty exists in this world in every single person – it’s up to each individual to share their own and to see it in others.

So, you know, take a breath, relax and forgive yourself for not being the person you feel like you have to be to be loved. You will be loved. Just be willing to allow others that same grace.

From my heart to yours-

Further Reading: Misogyny in Technology

For anyone who is interested in learning more – and possibly wanting to know why I wrote such a heavily vitriolic Dear [Blank] to the men in tech – feel free to read more at any of the following links. You are also welcome to ask me any questions. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart and I feel that awareness is part of what creates change.

Technology’s Man Problem

What the RadiumOne CEO’s Firing Means

The Website that Says It All

Why The Tech Industry’s Sexism Problem Isn’t Going Away

Peter Shih “10 Things I Hate About SF” Backlash

Timeline of Incidents

I also have a post in my Let’s Talk About category speaking to general sexism in the workplace. That post in part describes a very common experience for women in technology, but it applies to most workplaces that are dominated by men. Personally, I think part of the behavior is from posturing – so men, who really feel like women are only good for objectifying, get to say whatever they want and feel legitimized and men, who don’t, go with the flow or endorse it so as not to be on the outs.

There’s also a phrase that runs around – brogrammer or brogrammer culture – which is a point of contention with a lot of people. I can speak to it, but despite the sexism I’ve encountered and seen, I’ve only met one real brogrammer, but I sincerely doubt he would have called himself that.

Hope that helps satisfy your curiosity and/or helps broaden your understanding.

Dear Men In Tech (Who View Women As Objects, Trophies, Conquests and/or Prizes),

Just because a single, attractive woman is in your general vicinity doesn’t mean she wants to screw you. Really. I pinky swear. They operate with their own thoughts and experiences and a lot of the time, that means they really, really don’t want to sleep with you. You should have matured beyond this fraternity mentality already.

Zero Love Forever –

P.S. Luckily, there are cool guys who are happily married/in relationships/single and have no interest in this ridiculousness. There are just a disgusting amount of men – married or not – who seem to think if you have a vagina, you clearly want them all up in it.

(Edited 5/7/14 for clarity and language. I got a little salty there.)