The Love Mugs

"Wanna grab a beer with me after work?" 

She nods and asks if I'm sure. I'm not drinking as much these days, keeping the wine and beer out of the house for the most part. We'd been using it as a way to cope, me especially, as a way to relax my shoulders from their tensed position. It's been too much, and it's always too much, but now I soothe with sparkling water and tea and the little oils and jade roller I keep in a wooden bowl beside the bed.

"I just need to get away."

What I wanted was to sit at a table, and not have dinner in bed again, our plates balancing on our laps, and one less stain on the linen duvet that I spent my hard-earned money on. What I wanted was to not see work, the hunk of aluminum and the scattered bevy of tools and supplies that litter the yard that isn't ours. What I needed was to just be us, the people who've lost their sense of self and privacy and adulthood and autonomy while living and working on someone else's property, and not look at the construction zone that is our own home, with half finished walls and a ramshackle kitchen with a sagging shelf and a jug-to-bowl-to-bowl system for washing dishes. 

So we went and we sat amongst college students in a college town at a decent pizza place with a bar and had a slice and beer, and we stayed for hours, setting up our own little version of home at one end of a long table. We can make ourselves at home with ease wherever we are, and no doubt because we live the way we do, our homes together fleeting and everywhere. 

We've lived in separate houses, four hours apart, and made home together on those early weekends. She'd drive the miles to see us, me and a tiny babe, arriving late on Friday night and I'd burst out the door to greet her, and we'd kiss so strongly that it's a wonder we were never injured. That first kiss after five days apart, five days of strangely orbiting through our own worlds in our own towns, shopping for groceries and attending class and going to work, sitting in traffic and all the while, knowing that this other person is somewhere far away and doing the same, and you feel strange and distant and close and special and connected all at once. 

There were mugs that have since broken, made by a woman who we now call a good friend, in the place that is the most home either of us know, at a lake that is frozen this time of year. We simply know it in the summer, when we walk barelegged up to Tara's studio, the place that when we met was just her, and now it's her and Cait and Jude and the little one in Cait's belly, and Devi the cat. The mugs were made, and Ellen bought them that only summer I wasn't able to go to the cottage, and the year she left early to come back to see me.

She presented them to me as we sat with summer tans at the edge of my bed in that big old house, these hollow, swirly bits of fired clay with hand-painted love, wrapped carefully in newsprint, and they became home. We'd pack the mugs into our weekend bags and whether here or there, they represented that we were together, connected, and though our houses were big and filled with others, we'd slip into this little shiny globe where we pretended it was only us and we didn't live and shift and shape in different worlds all week. 

Then there was the house, our island, where we didn't stay long. We learned one another there, the stretches of time apart no longer, and heated, passionate arguments took the place of heated and passionate sex, and we tumbled and flailed while still being madly in love until we were better able to smooth out the wrinkles and the dust settled, and we looked up with startling clarity to see we'd fought our way through and come out better for it, and how we'd created a home together, even in the hard places and stretches. 

It was soft and sweet, and we'd exposed the brick around the fireplace and laid a new pine floor, painted and drywalled and landscaped and installed new appliances and drapes. The front door had been painted a deep shade of eggplant, and the bathroom salvaged with tile and a $12 pedestal sink. There was the kitchen table we made together, my design and her brilliance, a metal base and a top with several hundred pieces of scrap wood we'd been given. It stayed with the house when it sold, and sometimes I think about it and wonder if they kept it or know how much love and work went into it, or that it was the first thing of now many that we've built together, the first something-out-of-nothing. 

There's been three Airstreams since, and a rental house next door to where we fell in love. It's not surprising that we built so much there, that so much of who we are and what we've created was born in a place where we could see the driveway she'd rattle down in that old gray Toyota pickup and we'd kiss those incredible kisses and hold on so tight it hurt. I hadn't really thought about it like that until now, that the energy of where we fell in love and made our life together might have been surging through how we made the impossible shift to possible, and we made it so we could work together and work for ourselves, and create things that only we can create if we do so side-by-side. 

I sit in the unfinished Airstream, and it's weirdly home too, though we've made home anywhere and everywhere. We made it in the back of a Toyota after selling Louise and leaving her under the coastal Redwoods, where everything we owned was packed into the back and in a cheap fabric roof box, and we'd live out of that and the guest room at my parents' and Deborah's Airbnb. We made it in June, though she was never meant for us and she was always meant for Jamie and Lauren, because they stepped in and they just fit, like we'd tailor made June for them and we didn't even know it. 

We've made it in dry lake beds in the Southern California desert, and we've made it under the oak trees where the air plants cling to the branches until the Texas wind barrels across the silver-and-gold grasses and they lift up and off and down to where I pick them up and touch their soft tendrils and make strange little art forms on the stump out front. We've made home in daytime parking lots just steps from the shoreline, where we pack up in the dark to sleep on crooked streets and hills. We've made it in the camper of our truck, with a makeshift bunk and air mattresses and the bright lights of Walmart, and under the thick and heavy dripping canopy of the Hoh Rainforest. We've made it along the river at Goldpan, where the air felt like hot sandpaper, like a giant blow dryer was positioned at one end and rushing it through the canyon and carrying with it the sounds of the train whistles as they shifted through the tunnels and along the base of the mountains all through the night. This was the place where I sat in wonder and horror, as the darkest and strangest things I've done wracked my heart with guilt and I spoke apologies into the air to the people I've harmed and broken, as if they could somehow be carried out on the wind to them. 

The pizza was long gone, and a tired but happy almost-eight Adelaide was slumped against me, enjoying the deliciousness of a rare Netflix binge, and we talked about why we do this to ourselves, why we are always seeking something else, though it's not just something else, it's something more. 

And in the risk and the clamor, there is discomfort and sometimes pain, and we know the out. It's there, like a rotten carrot dangling to the side of all of this we're doing, there for the taking and the ease, it is the life we had, and the life we left, willingly and ably, to see what else was out there, what else we could do and feel and experience and be. We are certainly messy and wayward, and our families and friends and all of you look on in bewilderment and confusion right alongside us, but we pass on the carrot and trudge on in the darkness and dream big dreams and say, look what we've already done, what else can we do and make and be and experience and feel? 

I think about the mugs, how one broke in the rental house one Sunday as I was moving things out of the kitchen to install shelving for the landlord. It slipped from my palm so quickly there was no time to save it, and I fell to the floor as if I'd been shot, a wailing and strangely primal NO escaping from the lips that can kiss so hard they feel as if they might shatter. I cried and cried, holding the broken bits in my hands and hoping they would cut them open so that I could bleed too. The other broke here, under the oak trees and air plants with the sky above so big and open it's as if you can see the curve of the Earth, though that makes very little sense, as if the sky is somehow entrapped by the confines of the roundness of the planet. The mug slipped from Ellen's hand, and it's fitting, I suppose, that we each broke one and it's not lost on me that they each broke when we were serving others, doing something for someone besides ourselves. It was strange anyway, to see one without the other, and it was somehow a relief it was gone too, and she picked up the pieces in her hand as I had, and I don't know what she did with them. 

We sang to old and ridiculous songs on the way home and I watched the glitter of the lights in the fields, the little groupings of small towns you can see from far off here, and we stepped into a dark Airstream parked in a driveway, the one without switches or working lights and laughed and stumbled about in the darkness. 

The Holes We Leave: Online Presence, Persona, and Perfection

I read a piece in the New Yorker this morning after first reading the responses of various men to the story itself, and though the story was interesting and multi-faceted, the bit of it that I took away was in what one male reader said regarding the piece: 

"It does amazing work to examine the way we fill in the holes left by people's digital identities, and exposes the perils of that process." - Kaveh, 28, professor and poet 

It's something that we're barely beginning to scratch the surface of. After all, this sort of technology hasn't been around all that long in the grand scheme of things. When having lunch with our intern a few days ago, a young woman of barely twenty-two, it was interesting to see even the vast differences in how technology has moved and slipped through our lives, with just a decade of years between the year of my birth and the year of hers. Though my wife could have taught our intern in high school during her decade spent in education, we are of the same labeled generation of Millennials, persons born from 1982-2004 (side note: it's often frustrating to be grouped in with Millennials, for I am often lauded as lazy when grouped in with today's twenty-somethings entering, or not entering, the workforce, yet I run my own successful business and spend 12-18 hours of any given day working and still caring for home and my child). 

I remember instant messenger on my parents' old iMac, set up in the carpeted extra bedroom deemed as the office, messaging boys I was interested in (didn't come out until age 26!) and hoping my parents didn't catch me up late doing so. My first cell phone was tracked by minute usage and bought at Walmart, I was seventeen and driving and it was for emergencies, though I'd sneak and add extra minutes to call friends. When I was a junior in college, texting was the thing, and so I persuaded my mother to upgrade my phone and then she proceeded, aptly, to pester me to pay for the ten cents a text that quickly added up on the monthly bill. I wouldn't have a smartphone until my daughter was nearing age two, and I was working in marketing. My iPhone was given back when I was laid off, and though I'd just been laid off, I couldn't imagine going back to anything else and went straightaway to AT&T to buy the latest I could afford, the iPhone 4.

I don't have the latest model now, though when I bought it, it was. It's interesting to think how rapidly our technology has shifted in just this short stint of time, where I saw it happen in the last decade as an adult, our intern was entering into it as a pre-teen. Now we've got little windows into one another's lives, it's moved past simply texting. Though the story was about more than just texting, it was a complex swirl of modern dating, female perspective, consent, et cetera, the interesting bit that was pulled and I want to focus on was the way we are perceived - and want to be, or don't want to be perceived, through our online windows. 

These flat portals, connected through technologies I certainly don't understand and we don't pay mind to, are how we display ourselves to the world. It's likely no secret anymore that I'm at odds with social media, but more so, I'm at odds with those of us that use it, myself included. It's easy to blame the technology and the warp speed at which are world is moving, but it's not moving without us. There's no one to blame except humans, and we all have our role. 

I've been excruciatingly honest lately, both in the images I've posted to Instagram and the captions themselves, which for me, is the bread and butter. I'm not on Instagram to simply be inspired any longer, for we can be too inspired, we lose sight of self and become carbon copies of one another. What I've found, however, is that when my social media presence becomes less curated and less perfectly positive, the interaction from my followers drops off sharply. No one wants to hear or see that life isn't perfect on the other side of the screen. I see this glass, and the image is contained in it, and then I see the life that is happening behind it. There is the curation, and the carefully crafted and composed image. There is the formula for it, and once you catch on to the right type of imagery, you can grow your following and get free stuff and feel good about your miniature fame. We use vague wording that has little meaning and call ourselves writers, and pretend that life isn't happening...that our relationships aren't crumbling, our we're not afraid that our businesses will fail, or that our hearts aren't broken, or that we don't drink too much or smoke too much or ate an entire bag of chips and washed it down with a carton of ice cream. 

We don't talk about divorces, or death, or pain. We talk about the beauty of a slow morning, or that we're sitting so still, and taking in it all, simply because the image (taken in a brief second before we must get back to the drudgery and tasks of life), would suggest our lives are really that beautiful, simple, and easy. We're doing it now, and it's becoming as easy as breathing. 

I read a book recently that shook my world up a bit, in which the author prefaces by stating that his advice is going to be vastly different from any other self-help book the reader will have likely read. Throughout the text, the emphasis is put on not being positive all the time - that this is a form of ego, it's a way to separate ourselves from having to actually deal with our problems and face them head on. What's interesting about this is that we feel the need to be be perfect on social media, to present ourselves as together and certain, that we have all the answers you'd ever need (you know you want to live just like us, look how good we have it, here's how to do it). We're quick to brand ourselves as having those answers and sharing our knowledge. Like my friend Kerri said yesterday, everyone who's ever built out a van acts as if they're the first people to have ever done it. 

"The desire for more positive experiences is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one's negative experience is itself a positive experience." - Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

When I sit down to write anything, it's usually something I've thought about for a little while. Not always. Sometimes it's good, because life is good, and sometimes it's bad or hard, or because life is sometimes bad or hard. Sometimes, it's born out of a broken heart, or depression, or stress. My life as an adult hasn't been easy, and as a child, wasn't always easy. I often feel as if I've lived much longer than I actually have, and I am often tired. I work very hard, and I still come up short. I feel as if motherhood has been robbed of me, though I am a mother. I have seen divorce and death and poverty...what a lot of people these days would call grit. I have it, and I wear it, this grit they say I have. 

It's difficult for me to tape up these boxes in which lie my painful and scarring past, slip them on a shelf, and pretend that those experiences didn't shape me, or happen at all. You see, I've not gotten it all figured out - and the real truth of it is that none of us have, no matter how curated and perfect and precise in which we present ourselves. I will learn until the day of certainty, and so will you. 

There is a problem...we enjoy having others see us as ideal, to want what we have, what we've built, what is given to us because of a certain number of followers...too much. We want it too much. We enjoy it too much. So the pattern continues, and worsens. We tighten up our online personas even more. We don't experience heartbreak, or pain. Our relationships and marriages never go through periods of darkness or difficulty. Parenting is a breeze, one of bonnets on our children and cookies cooling on the counter. Our jobs and businesses look something like that out of a romantic comedy, tidy, with mid-day coffee breaks and unlimited socializing, never actually having to work. We study those with good imagery and say...okay now, how do I hold my phone to get that image? What apps do I use? What words convey that you want to be me

I find myself to be a complicated person with a painful and dark past who has continued to push, survive, and get through. I have not 'arrived' or figured it all out. I still experience struggle, pain, darkness, stress, confusion. I still wish I had some sort of fairy tale, the things we all hoped our lives would be as children. I don't have much time to sit and be still, because I work and I survive. My income and life is solely dependent on how hard I work, and how hard my wife works. I don't have slow mornings, my mornings are hurried and chaotic. My marriage, though a good one, didn't fall into place magically and stay there. We fight, we hurt one another, and then we find a way to continue to grow together and choose to be together, even on the days we don't necessarily like one another very much. It's often not magical at all, and is often a far cry from fairy-tale love. Yet she is the person I choose, and respect, admire, and love deeply. 

It's a difficult thing to strike the right balance between sharing the positive and the negative. It's far easier to elect to share only the positive, for it gets you where you'd like to go. It's received in a better manner, and folks prefer the glossiness and poise you are offering, much like a magazine. Yet what happens when we meet someone in person, like what happened in the story - the wittiness and banter that was shared in text wasn't shared in person. The perfection we so carefully curate isn't present any longer, our home is a home, with visible mess and dirt. We may cry or bicker with our spouse or have a child who isn't behaving...and then what? How are we portraying ourselves in which when someone meets us, we're nothing like the person we've crafted online? I have been told how perfect my life seems many times, and this is strange and humbling to hear. It means I'm not being real enough, honest enough, as I move through the world. My hope, is that when you meet me, I am as I appear online...and if I am not, please let me know. I want to work on it. Shouldn't we be who we are, always? 

I Am (Not)

I am not your experiment.

I am not your guinea pig.

I am not your trophy.

I am not your question.

I am certainly not your answer.

I am not to be hated.

I am not a source of confusion.

I am HUMAN.

I am a worker.

I am a contributor.

I am the person in line with you at the grocery.

I am a wife.

I am a mother.

I am a person.

I am just the same as you, though I’m also different.

I am a woman who has sex with another woman.

I am a woman who cannot have sex with my partner and make a baby, but my body is capable of making a baby.

I am a woman who has made a baby.

I am a woman who loves another woman, and when I love her, I show her.

I am a woman who loves her in the way maybe even you don’t know how, because your love is accepted and therefore easy...there it is.

I am a woman who loves my child, maybe fiercer than you do, because someone could take her away because I’m gay, though she is mine and came from me, she was born from my body.

I am gay.

I am a woman.

I am a woman who loves a woman.

I am capable of making more babies with the woman I love, it just takes a different method.

I am possible.

I am real.

I am your neighbor.

I am your friend.

I am your sister.

I am your daughter.

I am more than you know, and I need you - straight you - straight, easy you - to stand up. To be there. To stand up for me and my heart and my family.

And how does it go?

If you are not for me…

You are against me.