weirdness

ET Moon

Mostly, I could tell, I made him feel uncomfortable. He didn’t understand me, and he was sort of holding it against me. I felt the urge to reassure him that I was like everybody else, just like everybody else. But really there wasn’t much point, and I gave up the idea out of laziness. -Albert Camus, L’Étranger

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here and there are several reasons for that. I’m working on a couple other projects that have me very busy. One of those projects is Co-Active coaching, which I love entirely. It’s great to have found a career that is such a good fit for me. However, maybe the other reason that I’m not writing as much is that I’m going through a weird time.

I went to the U.S. a couple months ago to visit, and since I came back to southern Spain I have felt uncomfortable here. When I go to Barcelona or Madrid I feel light on my feet, joyful, carefree. I’m always smiling. I meet all kinds of interesting people with whom it’s easy to connect. I feel like I fit in there. I’m just another person in the throng, with her beauty and ugliness, her passions and her torpidity. Here in southern Spain, however, I usually feel like an outsider. People put me in a little box and slap a label on me. They switch out the label depending on their mood. For a long time I was in denial about this. Once I realized what was going on, I resented it so much I struggled and fought, accused and cried, and in the end hurt no one but myself.

I have to accept that I am not going to connect in any edifying way with most people here. And that’s ok. I don’t mind feeling alienated here. As one friend said to me the other day, looking me squarely in the eyes: “What is it that you really want? To feel accepted by these people, like you are one of them? You want to be like them? Seriously, Lindsay? I don’t think so.”

Not only am I going to accept that I am not like people here, I am going to embrace it. A few of the people I have had issues with have said to me that I should consider that maybe I am the problem, not them. They are absolutely right, of course. My problems have been the following: Trying to force friendships with people who don’t share my values, making myself small so that others don’t feel threatened, and giving energy to people and situations that don’t give me joy.

I realized last night that the people I most identify with, respect, and admire are people who don’t have many intimate friends. Human friends, that is. When I was growing up I felt like my best friends were books, paintings, and trees. I still feel that to some extent.

When I’m in Barcelona or Madrid I take big, deep breaths. I stretch. I feel like dancing down the street. I am going to feel that here in southern Spain, too. I don’t care if it’s the last thing I do. I’m going to feel as wonderful here as I do in other places. So take that, andaluces!

blue moon

20110319-JLB_4506-4041This evening I went for a walk along the beach of Belfast Bay just after the sun had set. The sky was still tinged orange in the west and I started my walk toward the east. I saw that the  moon was just beginning to rise. 2015’s blue moon. It was the palest of whites when it first peeked over the horizon but soon it was a luminous pink and orange, something like this photo I found online. It was much more impressive than this photo. I watched it rise and for some reason I remembered a conversation I had a couple weeks ago.

I was at home in Málaga eating grilled sardines under the stars with a poet who I suspect of being a wise man. I was telling him that my life was very lovely and orderly for many years, and in fact people used to tell me that I had the perfect family and the ideal life, like something out of the movies. I was seldom unhappy or angry. He said, “Well, I think such a life as that is a shit. How are you to appreciate it and really know you are happy if you never suffer, if you just go through life feeling great all the time?” That’s how poets talk. Spiritual gurus are slightly (or very) condescending and poets just say straight out, Your life was a shit.

But I think he’s on to something. For the past couple years my life has been a mess. At first I was embarrassed by it. I was failing all the time and I felt ashamed of these failures and angry at myself for letting them happen. I felt like a loser, like I couldn’t do anything right anymore. The internal work I’ve done through coaching and Stoic meditation has gone a long way in helping me see how wonderful it is to fail. It means I’ve taken a risk, I’ve hopefully learned something, and I’m living my life in a bold way. I can fail quite spectacularly now and feel relatively unfazed by it. It does hurt a bit still, but usually I’m so quickly on to the next endeavor that I’m not down for long.

For example, for the past six months or so I’ve been kissing a lot of frogs. I’m learning that there are many types of frogs. According to this article there are nearly 4000 types, including toads which are part of the frog family. I think I’ve kissed some of those too. I do hope I will find the type that turns into a prince before I get too close to the 4000 mark, but I’m making progress. See, a couple years ago it would have really grossed me out to be kissing all these frogs and it would have traumatized me. But now I take it less seriously and I also see that this experience is helping me to become quite an expert in the herpetological field. I’m now able to identify many types of frogs by their identifying spots or the shape of their nostrils without having to kiss them at all. As in, this is the type who lies, this is the type who doesn’t have a lot going on upstairs, etc.

It’s all good. My life is no longer picture perfect, nor is it a shit. It’s a beautiful mess. I’m a beautiful mess.

 

life as a tramp

 

She gets too hungry for dinner at eight
She likes the theatre and never comes late
She never bothers with people she’d hate
That’s why the lady is a tramp

Lately people don’t like me. Not everyone of course, just some people. A significant number. They unfriend me on Facebook, horror of horrors. They avoid me, not returning my messages. Or they just give me the stink eye. It used to be that this kind of rejection would upset me. A lot! I wanted everyone to like me. I needed everyone to like me. And because I needed that, I was… nice. I couldn’t help being opinionated, strong-willed, and expressive, but when I saw that being this way was making some people not like me, I would immediately tone it down. I made myself smaller around small people. I retreated. I waffled. I stepped lightly.

Throughout life our values change. I no longer value people liking me. When I left the Mormon church I lost quite a few friends just for that. It was an eye opener. And then when I started simultaneously trying to make new friends and come more fully into who I am, I discovered that not everyone was going to like the unapologetic version of me. I was surprised by how many women didn’t like me, for example, as I became more connected to my sexuality and stronger in that. I suppose it makes biological sense, but are we that primitive, ladies?

Quite recently I’ve decided that not only do I not care if everyone likes me, but it’s probably a good sign if some people don’t. Once I really started to believe that deep down, I changed a lot. I stopped being nice and I started being real. I started being someone I like and admire. I had no idea what an impact that shift would have on my social life. It’s been dramatic. People either feel much more comfortable around me, or much less. There is not a lot of in-between.

And I feel more at home in my own skin than I ever have. I’m in my body, and I’m taking up space. I’m not sorry to be taking up space. This is my space. The other day in a practice coaching session, a man told me that I am earth, sex, heat, and power. I said, Yes! That’s me. You nailed it, buddy.

I don’t see myself giving up this way of being so that everyone will like me again. My friends are deeply important to me and I love them immoderately. However, first I’m my own closest friend. And that friend never tells me to be nice anymore. She tells me to be a tramp.

untethered

11127204_10206955703675224_3380256642613492434_oThis is the first vacation I’ve ever done by myself, completely untethered. No kids, no dudes, no staying with friends.

At first it was disconcerting. My first full day here in Barcelona, for example, lunch time came along and I wandered the narrow streets of the Gothic neighborhood looking with longing at all the mouth-watered options. Thai, Moroccan, Spanish, Catalan, Japanese… I became hungrier and hungrier. My stomach started to growl. Suddenly, I stopped and looked around me in irritation. And I realized something. I was looking around for whoever was responsible for deciding what “we” were eating for lunch. Because there has always been a “we!” I seldom go out to eat alone, and I always defer to whoever I’m with to decide where.

That was a major moment. Since then, I’ve positively reveled in the acts of getting up late, taking forever to choose my outfit for the day, primping, eating at odd hours, taking siesta at 7pm, browsing the shops forever, reading in cafes, and spending too much or not enough time in the museums. It’s marvelous. Even if I get engaged tomorrow (which seems like a distinct possibility here in Barcelona!), this will for sure not be the last time I take a vacation by myself.

I am reborn. Back in Málaga where I live, I was feeling annoyed, misunderstood, and very tense. Weird stuff kept happening and I couldn’t deal with it. I felt like whatever I did was wrong. Here in Barcelona, I’m a cat and I don’t give a damn. Everything flows, the Universe is conspiring in my behalf, and I’m ready to receive whatever comes my way. I feel alive creatively in a way that I haven’t for some time. I’m constantly getting new ideas for my projects and I’m excited to start work on implementing them. I’m on fire!

On a personal level in my relationships, back in Málaga I was stressed about various situations there. I felt stuck and whatever I tried to unstick myself only made things worse. Here and now, in my state of flow, spontaneity, creative energy, and Level 3 listening, I’m cool with sitting back and letting things unfold as they will in my relationships. This is how I so desperately wanted to feel before, and though I tried, I didn’t know how to get there. Now I see that what it takes is allowing myself to be happy and engaged deeply with what I care about. When I do what I love and kindle my passions, everything and everyone else falls into place.

I spent much too much time agonizing over who said what, she looked at me wrong, and I texted this or that and then he said such-and-such… Such absolute rot! For one thing, if your resources are largely devoted to doing what you love, you radiate an irresistible energy. You attract the “right” kind of people in your life. It’s effortless. Really, you don’t even have to think about it. Also, people always reveal themselves for who they truly are. Sometimes it takes time, but it all comes out eventually. There is no need to be surprised or even especially upset when someone you care about and think you know turns out to be a bridge person.

I took the above photo in the National Museum of Catalunya. I don’t remember the details of who the photographer is. I believe it was untitled. The photo struck me because I love women in hats. Also, I think the determination in her expression and light in her eye shows that she is a woman connected to her passions. I identify with the feeling I get from this photo.

How to Go Through Hell: A Primer

Dante and Virgil visiting Hell. William Blake
Dante and Virgil visiting Hell. William Blake

As some of you know who have been reading this blog, I have been working for the past couple years on becoming more emotionally resilient. For my entire adult life until two years ago, I was married to a man who made it his business to solve any problem I had, big or small. When we separated and I also lost the support of my faith community and many friends, living in a foreign country far from my family, I realized that my emotional resilience level was about zero. There were some men hanging around and I saw that I had the option of choosing one who would take care of my problems for me again. But that didn’t seem like the best option for a smart, strong, independent New England girl. I said to myself, I’ve got this. I can use this time that I’m single to develop the skills I need to take care of my own emotional needs.

It’s been a rocky ride. And I’m not referring to the trials that have come my way. Everyone has problems, challenges, etc. I’m talking about how I handled them. Sometimes I’ve failed quite spectacularly. Sometimes I’ve been needy, selfish, inept, and awkward. However, this time I succeeded. I have to say, I didn’t know I had it in me. I’ve come a long way.

In the last three weeks, I’ve been to Hell and back. I finally told a friend most of the story last night and when I was done, her mouth was hanging open and her eyes enormous. I didn’t tell her all of it because there wasn’t time, and I won’t tell anyone all of it. It’s the kind of thing that could happen to anyone and it doesn’t matter what it was. I’m fine. Hell no, I’m much better than fine. (More about that later.)

A couple of the things that came up in these weeks were things that I’ve never had to deal with in my life, or even think about. I felt overwhelmed, confused, scared, and very alone. I started confiding in a friend but that ended up backfiring and making me feel worse. I felt too vulnerable, so everything she said only made me feel worse. For a while I kept it all to myself. I know that my friends and family are there in part to help me through difficult times, but I wanted to hold off and see how much I could handle on my own without troubling or stressing other people. And I wanted to see how emotionally resilient I could be.

I can’t believe I’m saying this now, but I’m glad all of this happened. In my efforts to establish order in this chaos and find confort, I’ve learned valuable coping techniques that work for me and that I can apply next time I have to go through something like this. (I know I said I was glad this happened, but please God let there not be a next time!) I also discovered a strength that I never knew I had, or at least never considered it a strength in these circumstances. I learned new things about myself as well as useful information about another individual that it was much better to know sooner than later.

Here is my little primer for going through Hell:

1. Let yourself feel your feelings. There were a lot of negative and intense feelings all at once, each competing to have its turn. Guilt, fear, confusion, pain, uncertainty, sadness, disappointment. It wasn’t always convenient or possible to give way to these emotions during the day when I was out and about in the world. It was good to have times where I had to go about my business cheerfully. That made me feel more cheerful, in fact. But it was just as good when I was alone in my bed at night to let myself cry for a little while. I found that when I did this I was less likely to wake up to panic attacks during the night. Further on in the post I talk about what I discovered when I let myself cry.

2. Take care of your body. Even though sometimes I didn’t feel like it, I got myself outside and exercising most days. I made sleep a priority. Even though I had no appetite, I continued eating healthy food. When you are going through Hell, you need all the physical strength you can muster. Be good to your body and it will be good to you.

3. Refuse to self-criticize. It would have been easy to blame myself for these trials and to obsess over what I’d done wrong. However, constant self-criticism is damaging to your self concept and even affects you physically. Attacks to yourself, even if you are the perpetrator, stimulate the body’s threat defense system causing it to release high levels of cortisol, which could eventually cause your body to shut down in a depressed state.

4. Have rational talks with yourself. As opposed to beating yourself up, this works wonders. Remind yourself that what is done is done, and as the past falls into the category of things you do not control, let it go. Ask yourself what you will do differently next time. Be grateful that you are learning and growing.

5. Find distraction in the beautiful and the edifying. I was going to go crazy or become depressed if I thought about my predicament all day. I found marvelous distraction in William Blake, my children, my friends, and an exciting, suspenseful novel. It was nice to escape now and then into someone else’s world. Distracting yourself from your problems doesn’t mean running away from them. It means preserving your good health, physically and mentally.

6. Pray. I am going to piss off all of my friends with this, atheists and avid Christians alike. I don’t know what form God takes, but I suppose I do believe in something because I believe in prayer. It always makes me feel better. It works.

I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.  -Edna St. Vincent Millay

I can not say it better than my fellow Maine girl, poet and playwright Edna.

These sleepless and harrowing nights in my bed crying, I found out that I’m strong in a way I hadn’t noticed before. It happened every time that I would be lying there feeling like utter crap, and suddenly, I would start laughing. It wasn’t hysteria. It was that I could not help recalling something funny someone had said, or seeing something funny in my situation, and it made me laugh. This happened naturally without trying, and when I was giving myself some time to feel negative emotion. What if I had tried to suppress these emotions, forcing myself to “think positive?” What if I’d tried to medicate those feelings away with drugs, alcohol, or food? I never would have discovered that my sense of humor automatically steals in to save me when I need it.

My dad probably had a lot to do with this. Like me, he had the annoying habit of sometimes laughing uncontrollably in inappropriate situations. We would share with each other embarrassing examples of when in concerts, meetings, and other serious places we would find ourselves snorting, choking, and shaking, trying to hold it back. I was so glad that everyone laughed so much at Dad’s funeral. He wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Recently I was listening to a podcast of an actor or writer or someone, I wish I remembered who, who said that the best comedy has an undercurrent of sadness to it. He said that jokes that do not have that touch of sadness are superficial and harsh. I want to think more about that. Maybe that’s why some of the best comedy writers are Jewish.

Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place. -Rumi

After going through this, I feel cleansed. I absolutely feel like the yellow leaves have been shaken free and the rotten roots pulled up. I don’t know where the new joy will come from, but I’m ready to receive it.

Oh! And here’s one more from Agatha Christie. I believe this to my very core.

racked-with-sorrow

make yourself the interesting

apartment_wallpaper1024
Because men in the kitchen are sexeh. And I’m in love with Jack Lemmon.

There is this phrase in Spanish, “hacerse el interesante,” which means playing hard to get. It’s one of those concepts that come up a lot in my talks with friends about dating. There is an entire book dedicated to teaching women who want to land a husband how to play this little game. It’s called The Rules. The book boasts that you may even be able to land “a player” if you play by these rules. Because, you know. It’s every woman’s dream to marry a womanizer.

Making yourself the interesting absolutely works. I’ve seen it in action many times. Before my very eyes, a handsome, intelligent, and talented guy friend of mine was lassoed by an uptight, marginally attractive, insanely jealous woman. She did that Rules crap on him and he’s been with her for three years. I recently mentioned to him an incident in which she was disrespectful to me and he replied that he didn’t think it was nice of me to say such things to him, because after all, she’s the woman he’s with right now. He was right that I shouldn’t have said anything and I regretted it. But… the woman he’s with right now? Wow. They live together and everything. If I made that type of commitment to someone he’d better be referring to me as the love of his life! And that’s the thing with doing The Rules. The guy doesn’t know the real you until it’s “too late.” He’s already made some kind of commitment and if he’s a decent guy who doesn’t like his boat rocked too much, he’ll honor it.

I read The Rules a few months ago and it did have an effect on me, though not the intended. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I have a contrary streak a mile wide. If someone tells me that this is the only correct way then I immediately have to prove the opposite. So after reading The Rules, I decided that I was no longer going to passively sit back and let men chase after me. No. *I* was going to do the chasing. So I started chasing. I started making very direct propositions of the sort that were made to me from guys, somewhat modified to be more feminine. I found that guys loved it. They responded immediately and intensely. The only problem was… then I was no longer interested. I couldn’t follow through! I found that when I was doing the talking, I was all talk and no action. How disappointing! Because really, I think sometimes men just get tired of always being the assertive ones. When a girl makes the first move it must be a breath of fresh air. So it works for them. Sadly, it doesn’t work for me. It seems deep down I prefer to be chased.

Instead of making yourself the interesting, you could always just be interesting. That works. Instead of playing hard to get, you could actually be hard to get, in the sense that you have boundaries and a good sense of self worth, so not just anyone has access to you. This works for both genders. It turns me off when I myself am too assertive, but also when guys are to me. I like them to keep me wondering. I love enigmatic men, even if I sort of hate them, too. I think I do play hard to get, but not intentionally. I do it because it’s fun. It’s part of the little dance.

Is it possible that spring is in the air? I think I’m getting over my pickle face toward potential suitors. Suddenly men seem very nice indeed.

El Higiénico

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Not long after I divorced I created a profile on an online dating site. Newly single for the first time in my adult life, I was excited to meet guys and go on dates and at the time it seemed like as good a way as any. Actually, for a shy girl it seemed superior to meeting someone at a bar or club where at the time all I could do was blush and look at my shoes when guys approached. This way I could hide behind my online profile, which I carefully created to be classy yet playful, and check out potential dates from the comfort of my laptop and pjs.

I was initially delighted with all the messages I received and it was all so fun. My mobile phone was on fire as I struggled to answer all the messages from my potential suitors. I felt like the popular girl! I was open to meeting in person anyone who seemed reasonably attractive, interesting, and polite in their messages, sometimes if only out of curiosity. However, I quickly realized the following:

This is no place for the grammatically pedantic. I decided I was only interested in dating men whose native Spanish was at least as good as my non-native Spanish. In the online dating community, that decision winnowed down my options to a depressing few.

When you are going to meet someone for the first time, you must have an exit strategy. I learned that meeting someone for drinks on my way to another event was usually best. Jules Evans calls it the Two Beer Rule in his very funny and spot-on post about online dating. The Two Beer Rule (or sometimes, one Coke) is a must, because:

Some people are able to make themselves attractive, interesting, and polite in their online profile and in messages, but then in person they are none of those things. (See El Higienco below for the prime example.) I once met a guy for sodas while I was shopping in the city center. From the moment we sat down he would not stop trying to touch my hands, legs, and face, as well as gaze soulfully into my eyes. I suddenly remembered that I had promised a friend to do something or other and I made a hasty departure as soon as we paid for the Cokes. When I gave him the two kisses in the Spanish goodbye, he grabbed my tush with both hands and squeezed hard. When I told a friend this story she said, “He knew that was going to be his only opportunity to squeeze that ass and he took it.” I only had to endure a few minutes of the octopus’ company, but imagine if I had met this guy for dinner or even worse, to see a movie?

I eventually stopped meeting guys online because it never worked for me. I didn’t like almost any of them. I liked several as friends but not in that way that makes your knees go weak and your innards turn to water. But then, I’m unlikely to react to any guy I first meet that way. I’m a cold one, I suppose. Nearly all of the online guys came on too strong right away and that’s always a turn off for me. I need a more subtle game. I have liked guys who tease and let me tease. Guys who give me space. Guys who are perfectly fine with me flirting gently, then outrageously, then cooly pretending I didn’t do any of that. I like to play. I hope not in a manipulative way. I don’t like to play with people’s feelings. More than a game, it’s my let’s-see-if-you-can-catch-me mating dance. Online dating does not lend itself to my elaborate, subtle, drawn-out dances. As Jules says, online dating is too efficient and brutally direct, too mechanical to be seductive.

And now, as promised, I bring you… El Higiénico.

He was one of the many guys I was communicating with on this dating website but he lived in a city about two and a half hours from where I live. He was very handsome in his pictures, American, a writer, and funny. A few weeks after we started communicating online I went to visit a friend in the city where El Higiénico lived, and we made plans to meet. I was staying at a hotel far from where he lived and unbeknownst to me at the time, he picked a meeting place close to where he lived. He told me to take the bus. That may have been only the second time in my life I had been on a city bus. I ended up having to change buses to get there and it was confusing. It was a hot late summer afternoon in southern Spain and I arrived at our meeting a bit sweaty and annoyed. However, I think I probably looked sweet, fresh-faced, and demure in my conservative skirt and blouse. I was a kind-hearted, innocent Mormon girl, excited to meet a new guy. And he knew all of this from our messages.

He was handsome in a boyish way. He was 33 but could have passed for 25. He was very fit. He asked me if I wanted to go anywhere particular and I told him I wanted shade and a drink of water. For some reason he ignored this and led me on a walk in the hot sun. I kept looking around for a vending machine or kiosk that sold water, but none were in sight. I asked him about his writing career and he told me that the last article he had written was an exposé on the dubious labeling of fish in markets and grocery stores in Spain. And then he told me all the things he hated about living in Spain, including the rude and ignorant people, food, sports, music, news programs, and weather. Topping his list of things to hate in Spain were Spanish women. He told me that he is a person who cares very much about hygiene and potential germs, and he found Spanish women to be unhygienic. He went into disturbing detail on this point. To change the subject I asked him about teaching English, which I knew he did in addition to writing. He told me that teaching English is the one cool thing about living in Spain because he was able to work only two hours per day and earn enough money to put him “in the Spanish middle class.” I don’t remember now what that sum was. However, he repeated this several times. I asked him more about his writing. I think by this time I was weak with dehydration and had to sit down. There was no shade where he had taken me, so we sat in the sun. He then asked me about my writing and the following conversation took place.

Me: Well, I haven’t written much the past year or so. My dad died about a year and a half ago and since then I…

Higiénico: [whispers] Cancer?

Me: Um, what?

Higiénico: Was it cancer that killed him?

Me: No. He died during open-heart surgery. And it changed me somehow, I guess I got depressed. I had no interest in writing anymore and I…

Higiénico: Look, Lindsay. Stop a second. I need to be clear with you here. I’ve reached the age of 33 and I think at this age I don’t have to beat around the bush. What I really want to do is fuck. Sure, I want to go out to the movies, go for dinner or whatever, and then fuck. It’s that simple. Does that seem like something that would interest you?

Me: Frankly, if that were what I wanted to do, I don’t believe I’d have to leave Málaga. I think I would likely have a fine selection right there to choose from.

At his point El Higiénico lifted up his shirt, grabbed my wrist, and placed my hand on his abdomen.

Higiénico: There. Feel that? What do you say to that? That’s nice, huh? You like that, huh? Those are rock hard abs.

Me: Very nice, yes.

Higiénico: And the thing is, Lindsay, you wouldn’t have to come to me. I [paused for effect and in a sweeping motion with his hands, indicated that his entire body was involved here] would come to you. I could come down for the weekend, we’d take the kids to the beach, eat some sardines at a chiringuito, and then go to your place and fuck.

Me: I see. Hmm.

Higiénico: I think you’d like it.

Me: I’m not seeing that happening.

When I have told this story, most people have asked why I didn’t slap him or cut him off right then and there, or tell him I had a headache (which I did actually) and go back to my hotel. But when I told my sister Maria, she said, “See, if it were me, at that point I’d have to stick around and see what else the bastard had to say.” It is in these ways Maria and I can tell we share DNA, because of course I stuck around. And the bastard had more to say.

We decided to go for ice cream. He told me about his ex wife, a Spanish woman and former model he was married to for ten years. He told me again about how much he loathes Spanish women. And again about teaching English two hours per day and that being enough to put him in the Spanish middle class. And then:

Higiénico: How many messages do you get on that dating site?

Me: The first couple days I got about a hundred messages. Now maybe 10-20 per day.

Higiénico. Wow. Well, but that’s only because you are over 35 and divorced. Everyone figures you are desperate for sex. I get probably five messages per week, which is a lot for a guy because women almost never write first. Have you ever had a homosexual experience?

Me: No.

Higiénico: You’re lying.

Me: Nope.

Higiénico: I know you’re lying because everyone has had a homosexual experience at least once. On a Friday or Saturday night in a club, at about 4 am everyone who hasn’t paired off already turns gay. The men start checking out men and the women start checking out other women because they are all so desperate to get laid. It’s just human nature, not a big deal. Anyway, I often get messages from guys at around 4 am on a Friday night saying, ‘Dude, I’m not gay but I just need to get laid. You up for it?’

Me: Uh-huh.

El Higiénico had asked me earlier what my plans were that evening. I told him I was going to a friend’s orchestra concert and then we were going out after for drinks.

Higiénico: Lindsay, I’ll tell you what I think you should do tonight. After the concert, go to your hotel. Give me a call and I will go there and then go up to your room. Do you have a jacuzzi?

Me: No.

Higiénico: Damn. Well, we will start by giving each other massages. And then, we will have respectful, hygienic sex. And it will be glorious.

Me: I don’t think so. I’m not feeling it.

Higiénico: Lindsay, [at this point his tone becomes very condescending, as if he were talking with a frustrating child] if you would only try it, you would see that you like it. It’s as easy as that. Try it, and you will like it. You think I’m hot, right? So how could you not like respectful, hygienic sex with me?

Me: I don’t feel inspired.

Higiénico: [nearly yelling] That’s because you are so repressed! You are completely sexually repressed! I can tell by how fast you walk. Only people who are sexually repressed walk as fast as you do.

Me: Ok. Could be.

I shrugged, smiled, and hailed a taxi. As I got into the taxi, El Higiénico told me he’d be waiting for my phone call. But alas, it was not to be. That was the last I heard of him, or him of me.

Every single person I have told this story to has asked me what he meant by “hygienic” sex. A body condom? No oral? What? Everyone is disappointed that I didn’t find out what he meant by that. I’m ok with leaving it to the imagination.

guest post at Stoicism Today

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Stoicism Today has published a piece I wrote on passionate Stoicism. I repost it here. And welcome, Stoicism Today readers!

Stoicism for Passionate People’ by Lindsay Varnum

I cry when I’m ecstatically happy. I cry when a friend or family member or sometimes even a stranger cries. I cry when I’m angry or when something’s not fair. I cry at orchestra concerts. I occasionally cry at museums if I’m seeing for the first time a work of art that touches me deeply. I admit to having more than once cried in the middle of sex just because I was having such a good time.

It seems I was always like this. My father’s nickname for me was Little Feist. My constant crying as an infant and violent temper tantrums as a young child were scary and overwhelming for my mother, who just wanted to make it all stop. Luckily for her, my more tranquil and easy-going siblings soon came along, providing her with amiable distraction from her first child’s baffling intensity. If my strong feelings were difficult for my mother to deal with, they were much more so for me. Even as a young child I was able to perceive that I was more sensitive than most people. Unfortunately I only saw the negative aspects of this and how it made me a challenge for my family, teachers, and peers. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I started to see the positive side of being passionate. As a child I didn’t want to be seen as the difficult, oversensitive one and these strong feelings scared me and made me feel out of control. I spent all of my childhood and young adulthood at best trying to hide my emotions and at worst suppressing them entirely.

In my thirties within a short period of time came a series of life changes that made it impossible for me to continue dealing with my feelings in the same way I always had. My father died young and unexpectedly, I experienced a crisis of faith, divorced, left my religious community, and suffered a large financial loss. I wanted to handle all of this with strength and dignity. I kept getting up in the morning and going through the motions of daily life. I could still laugh and give hugs and dance, so I thought I was doing ok. But then I would find myself in public places like the grocery store with tears streaming down my face for no apparent reason. I was not doing ok.

I discovered Stoicism and started practicing it because I wanted to silence the compulsive negative thoughts that were making me feel increasingly worse about myself. That was the emergency situation that had to be handled immediately. Once that was under control and I was feeling less anxious and depressed, I realized that in Stoicism I had found a methodical way to work on character development and living my values again. As a member of a strict religious faith I had been used to studying the scriptures every day and tracking my personal spiritual growth. Studying Stoicism, self-monitoring, and practicing meditation came easily to me after a lifetime of religious practice and helped somewhat fill the void left when I stopped practicing my religion.

I started learning about Stoicism less than six months ago and by no means do I have an extensive grasp of it. However, I can share my experience with Stoic practice and how it has helped me so far. One of the many positive effects Stoicism has had on my life is that it has helped me become an even more passionate person.

I know, that sounds like crazy talk. But before you dismiss this assertion, let me explain the three ways I believe that Stoicism can help the passionate person flourish. In this context I define the “passionate person” as one who is highly sensitive and experiences intense feelings.

1. Practicing Stoicism frees us of fear of our emotions.

Somehow in my childhood I internalized the belief that my emotions were bad and could be inconvenient to the people I cared about or lead to sinful behavior. Because I feared my emotions, I practiced stoicism with a small “s” by hiding or suppressing them. I needed to discard this belief, then replace it with the belief that my emotions are a positive part of who I am as long as they don’t keep me from living my values. Before discovering Stoicism I felt constant guilt and fear about how my emotions could affect others. All of that melted away once I really believed that I am responsible only for what I control, and that does not include other people’s feelings.

Also, I know that through the Stoic practice of creating distance between my feelings and myself I can moderate extreme emotions that could potentially send me out of control. I can nip unwanted anger in the bud and pull myself out of a paralyzing sadness. I can bring down into reality the unrealistic, over-exuberant flashes of “genius” that come to me in moments of outrageous happiness. It’s one thing to wake up one morning and say to yourself, “Ok, from now on, my feelings do not control me, I control them. Ta-da!” and an entirely different thing to actually have a system in place that makes it possible for you to do that. Stoic practice has provided that system for me. Experiencing intense emotions and expressing them with considerably less fear and guilt is new to me, and for now at least, it feels healthy and liberating.

2. Stoicism makes us more spontaneous.

Spontaneous people are easier to trust and more fun to be around than those who are on the more inhibited or calculating side. However, being spontaneous doesn’t come naturally to people who are extremely sensitive because we are constantly trying to protect ourselves from getting hurt. We tend to be oversensitive to criticism and the opinions of others. When I learned about Stoicism and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the first damaging belief I tackled was this idea I had that other people’s opinions of me were of vital importance. That belief had to go because it was causing me serious harm. There were many people, including most of my friends and family, who were critical of me when I divorced and left my religious community. With effort, I have been able to stop caring so much what others think. I know this is true because now I so seldom wonder what someone’s opinion of me is. As Coco Chanel put it, “I don’t care what you think of me. I don’t think of you at all.” Once you don’t especially care what people think of you, you have removed a large impediment to being spontaneous.

When I stopped practicing religion I began to doubt some of my values and I didn’t always know where I stood. This made me constantly second guess throughout the day everything I thought, said, and did. Now I have a set time every morning to study and ponder the principles I want to live by, as well as inspire myself to live wisely throughout the day. I reserve judgment on how well I’ve done until nighttime when I review the day’s events. This setting aside of specific times for contemplation has effectively eliminated exhausting and pointless rumination from my life. Now I can just spontaneously live! And being more spontaneous makes me live more fully and in the moment, more passionately.

3. Practicing Stoicism helps us to become more humble and teachable.

Identifying too closely with our emotions and taking them too seriously shrinks our world and makes us more likely to be self-absorbed. It can be extra hard for passionate people to not get caught up in our emotions at the expense of other more important things, like cultivating virtue. When our feelings are stronger than other people’s, we can easily develop the mistaken idea that our feelings are more important than other people’s.

Stoicism trains us to become detached observers of our emotions, and the space that is thereby created between our feelings and who we really are is magical. All kinds of marvelous things can happen there. The Stoics want us to use that space to insert reason first and foremost so that we make wiser choices, but we can also bring in a sense of humor toward ourselves, one of the most attractive of qualities. It is that space that allows us to attain the perspective in which we recognize our place in the cosmos. It is in that space that we can become wise, humble, and open to change if we choose to do so.

Maybe at some point in life I will tire of being oversensitive, impulsive, mercurial, intense, and otherwise passionate. For now I would like to see how life plays out when I am the most sincere and transparent version possible of myself. I like to think that I can maintain these qualities I’ve had since childhood and at the same time cultivate virtue; that the one does not preclude the other. I like to believe that passion and eudemonia are not mutually exclusive. I feel like it is too early in my experiment to draw any definite conclusions, but so far, so good.

bridge people

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Yesterday morning I had chocolate and churros with my dear friend Marilo. Marilo is yet another of my beautiful friends, not only for her rare physical beauty, but for her even rarer combination of qualities. She is a profound thinker, but loves to laugh at herself. She has a highly sensitive artist’s mind that also contains whopping good sense. She goes on these marvelous flights of fancy and yet always maintains her feet planted squarely on the ground. Whenever I spend time with her, I come away wanting to write down everything she said, but also how she said it. I would not be at all surprised to see Marilo turn up some day in an artist’s biography as his muse.

Marilo thinks she and I are a lot alike, which is of course very flattering to me. I like to secretly (or not-so-secretly now) give myself airs that I’m just like Marilo. Although I know she is actually referring to something specific we have in common. We are both highly sensitive and easily hurt, and yet we can’t seem to help laying ourselves bare to people, open and vulnerable to whoever wants to come by and pinch us. When we get together, a lot of our talk is about how to deal with the inevitable pain this causes. Of course I’ve talked with her about Stoicism and how it’s helped me.

Like me, Marilo divorced after being married many years, about three or four years before I did. She has helped me tremendously in navigating single life. Yesterday she told me that she thinks I’m doing very well, and now is the best she has ever seen me. I went through the rest of the day with a big smile on my face. I probably looked simple minded.

Yesterday we talked about several things we’ve learned in the past couple years. One is about who to spend time with, and who not to. Marilo said that sometimes she has had a friend that maybe she has a good time with, but then when she gets home after spending time with that person, she starts to feel bad inside. Maybe she starts to feel small or insignificant, maybe negative or frustrated. The same thing has happened to me and it can be hard to identify exactly what the problem is. Now that I have more experience, I can usually figure it out. Sometimes it has been a problem within me, for example, that I’m letting my insecurities get the better of me. However, sometimes it’s the other person who is maybe too fearful or negative and I’m absorbing it. In any case, if their demons don’t play well with my demons, it’s best to find someone else to spend time with.

Another wise thing Marilo said yesterday was an off-hand reference she made to a former friend. She said, “You know, she was one of those people who pass through your life after you divorce and you’re looking for new friends. They teach you something and then they leave. It’s good that they appear in your life, and it’s just as good that they disappear.” I thought this was a wonderful way to view such people who sometimes leave an oily residue behind. People who’s principle purpose was to teach you how NOT to be. Later, she even came up with a cool name for them: bridge people. I love it! Isn’t it great? It only encourages you to keep meeting people, keep trying, without attaching too much importance to what doesn’t work out.

Marilo later posted this quote by Marta Zubiría to my Facebook: Hay personas que pasan por delante, pero no por dentro. There are people who pass by in front, but don’t get inside. It sounds better in Spanish.

There are people who don’t get inside us and people who shouldn’t get inside us.

A Mormon belief that I continue to hold dear is the idea that our bodies are temples. I do believe in that connection between spirit and body, that what is good for one is good for the other. For example, I know that what I eat effects me emotionally. I know that emotional distress can make me physically ill. I also know that there is no way to be physically intimate with someone without absorbing some of their energy. People will tell you that it’s just sex, it doesn’t really matter, it only effects you emotionally if you let it, that society imposes erroneous ideas about sex and if we all just went around humping naturally like animals do, the world would be a better place. Those are the excuses people make when they are either, 1) trying to convince you to have sex or, 2) attempting to justify their lack of criteria and self control.

Condoms can protect you against some STDs, but as far as I know, there is no spiritual condom. If you are being intimate with someone who has significant emotional problems, you are going to catch that just like you would syphilis.

be this guy

After publishing yesterday’s list of churlish male behavior, I was asked to post the top ten best and most attractive guy behavior I’ve experienced. And that was when I realized I have not, unfortunately, kept such a list. Here are a few I remember, probably because besides showing kindness, consideration, and good taste ;-), they seemed sincere.

1. “Please send me a message once you get home so I’ll know you’re ok. Otherwise I’ll worry.”

2. “I can see why those shoes are making your poor little feet hurt! I’m glad I’m not wearing them. I will give you a piggy back ride all the way to your car. Three blocks away? No problem.”

3. “I love your stories and I love how you tell them.”

4. “My favorite part of your nose is that round bump on the end.”

5. “Pearls really suit you. I should give you my grandmother’s pearls.”

6. Said to a friend in my hearing: “I don’t know. For me, I prefer elegant women. Like that one.” [nodding his head in my direction]

7. Made me breakfast in bed with the exact amount of sliced tomato on his pan tostado as on mine. In fact, maybe a little more sliced tomato on mine, though I couldn’t swear to it.

Number six, by the way, is not bad at all as far as pick up lines go. Most interesting women would rather be called “elegant” than “sexy.” I mean, don’t you think so? And while we’re on the topic… Guys? You might practice looking at women you like without having this look in your eyes like you want to ravish them right then and there. There is a time and a place for that look, and it’s not when you first meet someone. In fact, it’s probably best to reserve that look for after the girl you fancy has indicated that you are of romantic interest to her. You might even reserve that look until after you get to know her. It’s just an idea to consider.

There are additional beautiful things guys have said or done for me that I remember. Words or deeds that made me feel exceptionally loved and special. Listing those things publicly feels wrong so I’m keeping them in my heart.

Now I’ve made myself cry a little. You know, it was more fun to write yesterday’s bad boy post. But writing this one made me happy.