Saturday, September 6, 2014

Defenseless (Salt Lake City, Utah - 2014)


I just needed to point my skis down the hill and go.

“POINT YOUR SKIS DOWN THE HILL AND GOOO!” my instructor shouted up at me.  

He didn't shout at me like a coach encouraging little leaguers.  He wasn't Burgess Meredith bellowing and berating at Rocky.  He instructed me.  Loudly.  Forcefully. Relentlessly.

We stood apart on an empty slope on “green” run in Snowbird, Utah; 20 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City.  It was mid April and the snow was good, the air cold, and the sky a pervasive gray.  The sun was nowhere to be seen though it back-light the sky leaving that “bright clouds” effect.  This was my third day of skiing. Ever.

“POINT YOUR SKIS DOWN THE HILL AND GOOO!” he instructed up at me again.  

The really shitty thing about mutherfucking skiing is that the only real way to get back down to sanity and safety is to ski down the cocksucking run.  It’s a billion times harder to hike down the hill in the vices, er boots, you wear that pitch you ever forward.  If I had wanted to quit and march down to the lodge I would have passed out and died on the way from sheer exhaustion.  And I didn't want to quit.  I wanted to ski down the hill.  I was paying a lot of money to learn how to do this.

I looked down at my feet and gathered my intention to move.

“DON’T LOOK AT YOUR FEET.  LOOK AT ME.  LOOK WHERE YOU’RE GOOOOOIIIIIIINGGG.”

This guy never let up, for Christ's sake. He was a good guy. He was ruddy, rough, and humorless.  He was a big man with a raspy voice and a red face from all those days on the slopes.

On the lifts, going down the runs, in the cafe, the instructing never stopped.  If I tried to articulate my fear or get clever about my tiredness, he wouldn't allow it...or even acknowledge it.  He was the single most earnest and inexhaustible teacher I had ever met.  

So I was left bare of the sophisticated defenses I employ to diffuse intense moments.  And I had never faced fear like this before.  Paralyzing.  I stood at the top of that hill, a 43 year old man, with my beginner lessons giving me a pretty good foundation.  I should have been able to go and I couldn't.  I had never had that experience; the feeling that I don’t know how to move forward. I live my life at a breakneck pace, with boundless confidence.  There I stood with none of that.

“LOOK AT ME.  YOU’RE FEET ARE UNDERNEATH YOU.  TRUST THAT THEY WILL TAKE YOU WHERE YOU NEED TO GOOOO.  LOOK WHERE YOU’RE GOING.  THAT’S HOW YOU WILL GET THERE.”

I looked up.  Shimmied my skis straight.  I looked down the hill.  Never a more perilous drop had anyone ever seen.  I tipped the skis down the slope and moved forward.  Then I turned, shifted my weight so that one heel pressed hard and I moved horizontally across the run.  

‘THAT’S RIGHT, DAVID.  TURN.  SLOW YOURSELF DOWN.  STOP IF YOU FEEL OUT OF CONTROL.  LOOK AT YOUR DESTINATION, NOT AT YOUR FEET.

POINT YOUR SKIS DOWN.  TURN.  SLOW DOWN.  POINT YOUR SKIS DOWN.  TURN.  SLOW DOWN.”

In what felt like 20 minutes, but what was no time at all, I arrived at the flat part where my instructor stood.  I wish I had felt exhilarated but the experience was more like shock; a disbelief that I had been up there and now I was down here.  Looking up it was neither as far nor as steep as it had been when staring it down.  

I didn’t die which is insipid to say.  I never thought I would die.  I didn't even really think I would hurt myself.  At the top of that slope I just had no idea how I would move forward and get down the hill.  And now I was there.  Or at least that much further.  There were still a half dozen stretches to go and then we would just go up and ski down more.

“Good,” he said as a matter of fact and not as praise.  “You did that.  You looked where you were going, right?  When you’re walking in New York City do you look at the ground or out in front of you.  You don’t worry about your feet taking you where you want to go.  You trust that they can do that, right?”

“Well, I do look at the ground a lot.  The sidewalks in New York can be treacherous, filled with cracks and potholes.”

He interrupted me, “So you’re that guy; looking down, bumping into people!  You’re the guy I have to look out for when I’m walking in that city!”

I gave up then for good.  He was right.  Even if he was wrong about walking in New York City which requires looking up down and sideways and behind you at all times.  My arguing with him was an equivocation with myself.  His lessons were right and profound.  To really get somewhere I must look out at the destination, or at least in the direction of my intentions.  Looking at my feet gives false comfort.  Trust instead that my feet will take me where I set my intention.  If the feet fail then I would have fallen onto soft snow and then got up and went again.  If I would feel out of control then I could slow down or stop without leaving the experience or evading my emotions.  

It was an extraordinary experience that day to face paralyzing fear.  The advantage of aging is confidence.  A sureness in yourself, in your capabilities.  I knew for myself that the things that might have brought me down - like a divorce, a job loss, a housing crisis and a recession, did not break me.  I was battered and bruised but resilient.  Or so I thought.  That fortitude also somehow managed to bury my vulnerability.  But that day on the slope, the challenge and that instructor laid me bare.  And that felt…..terrifying and exposed.  I didn't overcome that fear.  I went straight through it all the way down that hill.  

Did that feel good?  No.  Satisfying.  Perhaps.  A part of myself, the part that feels sad, scared, angry, was rescued that day.  Pulled back to the surface.  Emancipated, but just a bit.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Blog Post - Daddy Got Weepy at the Leatherman (NYC & Chicago, 2011 & ‘12)

It was the Sunday before Memorial Day.  I was standing in The Leatherman booth at the market at IML (International Mister Leather) in Chicago deciding on which paddle to buy.  

That’s when the bewildering tears came, creeping out of the corners of my eyes at first.  

First let me explain to the uninitiated IML takes over an entire convention hotel in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend every year.  It’s a competition where the crown princes of 2012 leathermen contests around the world come to compete for the literal title of “International Mister Leather.”  

Concurrently thousands of men to come to gear up in leather, rubber, neoprene/, puppy play, and/or wrestling singlets or whatever else makes those men feel good and empowered.  Fetishes are played out between parties with always readily available sex.  It’s a good community of sex positive guys letting their freak flag unfurl and fly.  

I was 41 then and looking pretty good, fit, in jeans, boots, and my leather vest; sort of an afternoon leather daddy casual approach for midday fetish and gear shopping.  Already tall, my boots added an inch or two and then my leather trooper cap created some imposing height.  And there I stood shocked by the tears falling lighting from the corners of my eyes.

The proprietor of The Leatherman asked me about the boy who had assassinated my heart over the past 36 hours.  As soon as I said his name, tears crept out like water moving through the cracks in a stone.  The emotion welling inside found the fissure and took that opportunity to travel to the surface, no longer willing to stay subjugated.

So, there I stood, buying a paddle, a leather daddy crying like a menopausal woman.  Or like a man shocked by emotions forgotten for lack of exercise, who had been inspired by a little bit of love. My unintentional defenses were pushed out of the way.  I didn’t feel at all embarrassed.  It felt good.

There was also some sadness, anger, and regret mixed into those tears.  They felt like they had came from broken hear that had refused to fail.  I was divorcing and still separating from my estranged-future-ex-husband who had moved out of our home almost a year ago then.  Our five-year marriage ended several months before that.   

Divorce, as a process, is not quick or easy even when it’s amicable. Dissolution of a marriage is an incomprehensible miasma of paperwork.  It’s a lawsuit where one spouse is forced to sue the other for divorce, even when they both agree on how they want to separate and divide the assets.  Then add to that a home with an upside-down mortgage during a recession.  The severing of that presented only options that went from bleak to dismal.  

Friends, people who, I suppose, are concerned kept asking, “Are you and (he) still friends?”  The question always perplexed me.  Why should I have been friends with the man I was divorcing?  

It’s just one of those questions that people ask.  

I also get asked, “Are you getting along?” and “Are you talking?” These are variations.  It’s so automatic, like one of those things that people just...say.  But why?  It seems to come out of a sympathetic interest in my well being.

Is it a roundabout way of asking if our breakup was acrimonious?  Perhaps the real question is do you hate each other? Are you so angry at him that you cannot tolerate the sound of his voice?  I would prefer those questions because at least they’re honest.  

Were we friends? That question confused me.  

So, in case you’re wondering, I did talk to my ex.  The logistics of the divorce and separation of property kept us talking for months and months.  I never asked him how he was doing, though, or how he was coping.  

I would say I didn’t care but that’s tin.  The truer thing is that I deliberately severed my concern.  And I remember the moment when I made that willful break.  It was conscious and probably cruel.  

He and I decided to end our marriage after a couples therapy session where that suddenly felt unavoidable to me.  After that I cut-off a simple, sincere ritual; an innocuous daily act of reaffirming our love for each other.  When we left or came home, when we hung up the phone after talking to each other we would say, “I love you.” In person we would punctuate that with a kiss.  

Within a week of our decision to separate, months before we would physically leave each other, I said to him, “We can no longer do that.  Or say that.”  

If we were going to end our marriage then our actions had to follow our intentions.  

In that moment he looked so sad.  Tears welled up in his eyes fast.  He paused and took a determined breath.  “Okay,” he said, “I understand.  I get it.” It was as if the loss became palpable to him in that second.    

It was part of my project management approach to problem solving.  When someone presents me with a problem, I propose a solution.  Then I break it down into phases and start assigning resources - mental, physical, emotional.  I don’t even pause when something awful happens to me.  Instead I react with an action plan and then immediately implement.  It’s so intrinsic that when someone asks me how I’m feeling as I go through something awful, I’m quite surprised by the question.  

Acknowledging the end of our marriage and terminating my everyday care and concern for him.  Done.  That, to me, was a tangible step in separation.  

It’s a hyper-functional coping mechanism and it served me well.   I lost my job in mid 2010, as part of the detritus of a corporate merger.  That was about four months before we decided to end our marriage.  The mortgage needed to be paid so we lived together, slept side-by-side, for months after agreeing to end our marriage, until I found a job.  Only then could  we could afford to separate.  That kept us living together through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years of 2010 into 2011.  

During those weeks and months after that, before he moved out, I marshalled my acuity and spirit into finding work.  My severance was paying the mortgage.  His salary could not alone.  I couldn’t accept the failure of my marriage and losing my home to the bank.  Or selling it at a loss so that I would be over 40 and carrying mortgage debt for a home I had to abandon.  

I found job at the start of 2011, and he moved out a month later.  

Living alone after a long term relationship took twice the effort because I was used to doing only half the work.  Buying groceries, laundry, dry cleaning, paying bills, walking and feeding the dog happened with the same frequency but now I had half the “staffing.”  And new jobs require effort learning and meeting and trying to impress. Layer on that the refinancing and divorcing went on for another two years until they were done.

What I didn’t do until that Memorial Day weekend in 2012, was cry, or feel sad, or miss what I had lost.  It hadn’t occurred to me to mourn the loss of a love.  My ex and I had wanted to have children.  We were going to adopt.  We had even registered with an agency.  

But I could cry at the mention of a boy I had just really met the day before.  Those tears were stealth but also fierce.  At that improbable time and place, while trying to buy an instrument to deliver corporal discipline, a compassion overcame me.  It defyied want or logic or even any awareness that I had subjugated my love, hurt and loss.  

What was it about this boy that called forth this warmth and capability for loving, if not yet love?  

I call him “boy,” because that’s the play.  The boy is submissive to the Sir who is dominate.  Really they are both equal partners in that relationship or even if it’s only for sex.  The sub gives his service to the dom who controls and guides the boy.  Perplexing at first, I found trust and caring in that exchange that was profound.  That boy gave me the opportunity to allow myself be dominate without self-judgement, to let that part of myself off the leash with someone who wanted that from me.

This was all new to me.  This boy was guiding me through the code and protocols.  He was a sexy, beautiful guy still in his twenties with a shaved head and a scruffy beard.  He was a bit shorter and more sinewy and slender than me.  A boy really.  And a total dork.  He would yammer on about his knitting and then tell me about the St Andrews cross he has built in his apartment so he could be restrained and flogged.  He went on about rollerblading and then his dog and then asked if I would be willing to use him as a footrest some night while I watched TV at home.  (There is a surprising intimacy in that domestic scene he proposed, isn’t there?)

I was charmed.  That I knew as I looked around for a paddle to use on his naked ass.  Why thinking of him made me cry was perplexing but so great.  It was like letting out a breath that I had been holding onto for more than a year.  

The manager of The Leatherman man put both of his hands onto my shoulders and squeezed them.  “That is a beautiful thing, man.  It really is.”  That simple grace and humanness almost sent me into delirious sobbing.  I recovered and wiped away the tears.  I bought two paddles - one that made a provocative snapping noise on impact and another blunt one that was sure to leave more red and sting on a bare white ass.

I wish I could write that this was the start of the next big romance of my life.  That I’m writing this with the lovely, eccentric boy under foot.  When it comes to my alter ego as a dom leather daddy Sir, I’m a dilettante at best (though my play is sincere and earnest when it happens).  And the boy...evaporated.  Post-IML he wasn’t ready for dating or for dating me.  Who knows?  I don’t.  

That may seem like a sad ending to this story, but I don't’ see it that way.  A submissive boy helped his Sir rediscover the heart he had been too busy to see that he had lost.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Blog Post - I Am a Sex Tourist Pig (Berlin, September 2011)

The social code between a man and his Manhunt tricks can get murky. This became apparent to me two months ago in Berlin as I sat stunned, on the receiving end of an assault of text messages, trying to understand my obligation and assess my blame.

My phone had been vibrating and chiming at intervals that day, or at least since I had woke up at 2 o’clock in the afternoon to announce text messages from Brad. By 4 o’clock his pique had escalated to this...

WTF? Is this about your cock on your terms on your schedule??...Are you really a prick?


By an equivocation made up of white lies and delayed text responses (which I blamed on AT&T routing to the German carrier), I had tried to diffuse our one-sided dust-up. I’m sorry I missed you and I just got your text, sort of things.

Throughout the day the idea of sex with Brad again, for a second time in many, many months, had started to give me a dread. I wanted to creep away from my promise to meet up with him again.

By early evening, I had decided not to keep our “date” although I had not been that direct. I had suggested he come meet me at the bar rather than his flat. As I walked to PrinzKnecht, an unpretentious Berlin gay bar, to meet some new friends (friendly Parisians), Brad fired a fusillade that hit my phone as five separate text messages:

I am trying to hook up with yiou now. But the point is you dont want to meet now, right? Lets try some honesty here.


--2 seconds later--


Ok. You are a fucking prick. You send me a text telling me you are in a 3some! Then you want to blow me off tonight because you need to recharge. Then yo


--3 seconds later--


u only offer to meet on your time and your terms. And you lie about not seeing the text i sent you earlier. I dont think i've ever been so disrespected


--4 seconds later--


by a stranger. Guys should reduce you to your cock. Because you behave like a royal prick. Shame on me for feeling bad that i had to work last night and


--5 seconds later--


couldnt meet you. You are nothing more than a sex tourist prick.


I had met him in NYC many months prior through Manhunt, while he was in the States on a work trip. He was an American ex-patriot living in Berlin. He was an attractive man: forty-something, lean, sinewy, handsome, white, middle-American type of man. We had some good sex and light conversation in his hotel room one evening after work in the middle of a week. I added him to my “buddy list” so that we could hook up again should his work bring him back to Manhattan.

Folsom EU prompted our near reunion. Folsom in San Francisco is an annual celebration of leather and fetish that gives license for men to gear up and meet and play. This is the European sister event in the capital of Germany where kink is already unhinged at any time of the year.

After I had booked my travel I hit up Brad on Manhunt to try to reconnect. He jumped at the opportunity and, this is the moment when my sense of ick emerged, he insisted on having my first two nights in Berlin once I arrived.

I was going to Folsom EU alone and had no agenda other than to gear up and drop into the rabbit hole like a leather clad Alice. Not having plans or people binding me, it was difficult to defer to his pre-booking the two evenings. So I said sure. Hookups planned in advance always go into the calendar as tentative anyway. That’s the online sex experience and I don’t hold my tricks or my self to the standards I keep with friends or even acquaintances.

I arrived in Berlin the morning of September 7th, which coincidentally was my 41st birthday. Brad was MIA that night and that was a minor relief. The next morning, er afternoon, when I woke up I popped open Grindr (an app that uses GPS to establish proximity and immediacy at the moment of horniness) and it started to light up like a switchboard. A compact, muscly German with a shaved head and a goatee chatted me up: “Looking?” And soon after, “I’ll be at your hotel in 20 minutes....and can I bring a buddy.” I hadn’t been awake 20 minutes at the point. I dissolved a Viagra under my tongue for faster effect and showered and then my guests arrived.

They stayed for a couple of hours of sex with a few substances in the mix. The whole scenario was so debaucherous and immediate that it still pleasantly shocks me. In America there is a lot of negotiating about when and where (“host” or “travel;” everyone wants their sex delivered to them in NYC). The gay sex stateside just didn’t happen that easily. It could be easy but not completely without effort.

Maybe the European gays took their sex in stride or it had been a by-product of Folsom where kink and sex and fetish went to mingle and celebrate for a week. Also, Berlin was a city of non-stop sexual availability and indulgence. The bars all had backrooms and in many places it was more backroom than bar.

Brad re-emerged by text as I was “taking a break.” I told him how I was preoccupied, figuring the context of our acquaintance and the spirit of Berlin and Folsom would make that acceptable, treating us like members of a fucking brotherhood. Turns out he didn’t find my high-jinks amusing. Later when I tried to worm out of our meeting he let me know...

I moved heaven and earth to make sure I could be free for fucking tonight.


But I was sexed-out and he wanted me to travel to his place. I invited him to meet for a drink at PrinzKnecht and take it from there. He balked. (This was all by text. Never once did we talk.) And that’s when his condemnations went over-the-top.

Was I “nothing more than sex tourist prick?” Did I deserve that condemnation? I had tried to be polite albeit indirect. Folsom EU is sex tourism. It’s not just sex tourism. What is the norm where a week is spent dressing in leather; going out to bars and clubs where sex and fisting is not just available but anticipated and expected? Add to that excess depravity, apps on iPhones and iPads that made men available immediately in the intermission between sleeping and going out again.

To receive that kind of vitriol was upsetting to experience regardless of my culpability. To then feel mostly blameless somehow made the whole episode that much more confusing. I suspected that I was getting the sewage from other disappointments in his life. Still, I was rattled that night and intermittently for a few days after. Although I didn’t feel responsible for his bile, I did assume some guilt for having inspired the fury and hurt palpable in those messages. Instead of being nice I cold have been forthright, honest. Maybe that was my fault. I kept pondering about the etiquette and integrity we owe to each other in a realm that is purely or mostly just sex, largely virtual, and transitory.

The next night I saw Brad, across a bar, the next night at Lab.Oratory, a sex club spread out through a cavernous, abandoned factory building. The number “950” had been marked on my arm. It was meant for me to use when claiming my clothes later that night as I had stripped down to a leather jock strap. The club suspended admission at 1,000 men that night despite a queue a ¼ mile long outside.

We saw each other for a second before I could avert my eyes and look away. Lab.Oratory was large and crowded so avoiding each other was possible and, I felt, rationale. I turned around a moment later and there he was talking to a new friend of mine who was standing next to me. My new friend then turned around to introduce Brad us!? I didn’t know if they knew each other or whether Brad had maneuvered this awkwardness.

“Do you know....?” my friend said to me.

“No. I can’t. I won’t,” I sputtered out and walked away. I suspected that Brad wanted a reaction and I refused to satisfy his bad behavior. I spotted him again again that night, once-or-twice, but he kept a distance; lurking in corners and staring, or at least that’s how I experienced it.

I did not see Brad again the rest of my week in Berlin.

Two months later the episode nagged at me. A hook-up, a no strings attached tryst, was not a situation where I would have expected a blowup of ethical relativism. In the vapor of Manhunt and Grindr what do we owe each other? Nothing, except to enjoy each other and endeavor to please one another in our fleeting moments together. And everyone should have a pleasing orgasm if he wants one. Pleasing. Pleasant. Sexy. Fun. That is all we can expect and nothing is guaranteed. That’s all I will agree to...in this context. That is my social contract with the men I meet for sex through the Internet.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Willful Act of Obfuscation

Gay pride was ecstatic this year. The crowd was dense and joyful. New York's legislature had accomplished the impossible and legalized gay marriage the Friday before, just before midnight.

On that gay pride Sunday, my friend Eric and I stood behind a police barricade on the east side of 16th Street watching the flag twirlers, fags, fairies, and normal Joes and Janes parade and pageant past us with the thump-thump of a distant boom box creating a pulse for this extra ebullient gay pride march. There was a cloudless periwinkle sky above us with a warm, summer breeze adding to the perfectness of the day.

Eric and I have been friends for almost 20 years through boyfriends, lovers, and husbands. He can provide a dose of whimsy when I'm maudlin and sober advice that sets me straight (so to speak) even when I'm not sensible enough to ask for it.

In the midst of the reverie we were having a semi-serious sidebar.

"I had to do it. I 'hid' Mark on Facebook. I just couldn't see it anymore," I confessed.

Eric laughed. "I turned to Bob last week..." (Bob is Eric's partner and now his fiance thanks to Cuomo.) "...and I said, I'm going to 'hide' Mark. Then Bob got quiet for a moment and admitted, 'I did that a couple of weeks ago. I just couldn't take all that bear stuff. ' And then he shook his head."

Now there was moral support better than a hug. When a friend hides your ex-husband before you do, that's a gesture of love and loyalty.

I'm getting gay divorced soon. My husband moved out earlier this year. The persistent memory from the last year of my marriage was my husband on the sofa, watching TV in stupor. That was how I left him when I went to work and that is where I found him when I got home. That's how we spent our evenings.

Post separation, Facebook revealed a man I couldn't recognize or had forgotten. Checking in at an art exhibit, status updates from bars, "Mark is now friends with..."

"It's unbelievable," I said to Eric, "I couldn't get him to go anywhere, to do anything. Now he's everywhere, doing everything. I can't see it. Where was that guy last year?"

Eric had a theory: "Maybe its just post-breakup stuff. Where you just run around wild doing all this stuff."

I interrupted, "I wanted him to do things, make his own friends, have his own life."

"I know. I know. But maybe he couldn't give himself permission to do that while you were together."

A roar from the crowd brought me back into the present. A float rolled past with Linda Carter at the helm. It looked like Wonder Woman was texting. Or posting her status to Facebook. Or adding a friend. The gesture can be so easy, innocuous and fleeting.

My last marriage was in Massachusetts. I want my second marriage - with whoever that will be - inaugurated in New York City. For me, this happy advance in my civil rights means that I can get married again. Married. Divorced. Married. That's equality, baby!

Now I need to go notify my "friends" about this blog post. :)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Is This Romantic?

Netflix has lumped some of its recommended viewing into a category named "Romantic Comedies About Marriage." This is based on my having recently watched "The Four Seasons" and "The Money Pit."

That I have seen these movies in recent proximity reveals, perhaps, a certain masochism as I'm nearly divorced and trying to figure out how to keep my underwater mortgage afloat.

Netflix suggests that Love Hurts and Send Me No Flowers. Are these representative of the romance in marriage? This is what the algorithm has learned about marriage based on the collective input of subscribers.

There is/was romance in the routine struggle to keep a marriage going. It's difficult to see that, to remember that, from my current vantage point.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Learning to But Out

Last October, after ten interviews over four weeks I did not get the job that had started to feel like it couldn't go any other way. At that moment I had been severed/unemployed for 3 ½ months.

So I redoubled my effort and hours spent looking for a job. That included a 6 PM networking round-table for IT (Information Technology) professionals in early November.

These types of events all tended to follow the same format at the start and this was no exception. There were about sixteen men and women in business drag seated around a long, long conference room table on the 26th floor of the old MetLIfe building. (Or perhaps some people still remember it as the old PanAm building.)

A flip chart at the front of the room had the drill:

Name

Target job and industry

Former job and company

Target companies in your job search


If anyone around the table had any insight or connections in your industry or ideas about target companies, they were asked to interject on the spot.

When it got time for my elevator pitch about myself, a fellow across and down the table offered some ideas: “Have you considered...” (I do not remember the specifics.)

I replied, “Yes. I had thought of that, but...

The moderator, a tall women who sat upright in here chair at all times like she was ready to leap up, stopped me with her forceful, sand-papery voice, “No no no no no no no no no no no! Did everyone hear that? The ‘but.’ He was offering you a gift, David. Instead of interrupting him, you - we all - need to sit back and accept the gift that is being offered to you. Hear him out; with an open mind.”

I sat their stunned; momentarily, mentally slack jawed. The fellow repeated his intended advice fully while I sat and listened. When he finished I said a simple, “Thank you.”

I have lived in New York city for 20 years. Someone taking a breath is an opportunity to interject yourself into the conversation. We anticipate the end of the other person’s sentences because we rush through many things here including conversations. So this piece of wisdom can feel counterintuitive although it runs adjacent to many other zen like principles that can lower your blood pressure rather than amp it up: Listen. Be present. Stay in the moment.

In the months since, I have made an effort to banish the buts. I listen to myself speaking and will try to edit myself on the spot if the “bbbbbbut” creeps in. It’s tough backing out of a point/count-point statement in mid-execution. I have tried to eliminate it from my everyday email. That’s tough because it prevents one from using the let me tell you about something I like before qualifying it with constructive criticism.

It feels like a worthwhile endeavor. The but not only disqualifies and dismisses the other person, it prevents me from discovering something I didn’t already know instead of interrupting with my pre-conceived knowledge. If I just shut up and listen I may find something new that I hadn’t considered before.

Looking for work required stalwartness that created unnecessary defenses. In that moment, I was reminded that I needed to invest in some humility so that I could get back to work. The moderator’s firm rebuke broke through that calcification. The rest of the meeting was uneventful but the lesson learned felt profound.

The continued application of this wisdom has been a work-in-progress. I still hear myself interrupt and sometimes talk right over someone like a bulldozer in action, enamored with my own opinions or feeling an urgency to be heard at that moment. (In the clusterfuck of conference calls, it’s nearly impossible to resist the urge to barge in.)

No great revelation has come of it. At least, I am no longer oblivious of courtesy. And I find that, when I listen and wait and respond, I feel calmer and I may find something new in myself that I had not considered before.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sick of Sorry

John and I met at a bar in Gramercy, not far from Union Square, on a prematurely dark December evening at the end of last year; a typical black-box kind of place.

I hadn’t seen John - a big jovial grizzly-bear of a fella - in months; not since I had been laid off at the end of July. The company we had both worked for was sold. John went with the acquiring company. I was severed.

At the moment we bear hugged hello, I had been out of work for a little more than four months.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

I assumed he meant my job prospects so I listed companies I had been targeting and the many interviews that showed positive progress.

As I talked I kept my tone and manner buoyant. That was intentional. Self pitying was not allowed. In order to stay strong throughout my job hunt I had assumed the position that I was stalwart so as not to admit those doubts and fears creeping around the corners.

I had also begun to anticipate other people’s well intentioned sympathy and so I reinforced my self esteem every time I entered a “hello, how are you?” conversation.

“So, how’s Mark?” he asked,.

“We’re separating. Planning to divorce.” I made a little smile. I had taken the stance that the unraveling of my marriage would have to wait until I landed a job. At that time, divorce would have been a dangerous distraction from finding a job that would pay my mortgage. I needed my focus and energy soly fixated on finding a job to pay the mortgage. For every interview I wanted to portray myself as strong and confident so I played that part.

John paused before replying. “Shit. Please at least tell me that your health is okay?”

We laughed and I patted him on the shoulder.

How are you? So what's up? I had dreaded those questions every time I heard it over those six months of unemployment. When I answered it in any detail, in any number of ways, the response was almost always: I am so sorry, accompanied by a slump and a sad sack look of compassion.

The good intentions were obvious and kind. That had not been missed. I just didn’t want any fucking sympathy. I didn’t need it. I didn’t want it.

A week or so after seeing John, a friend-of-a-friend laid another “I’m sorry” on me. And then these words popped into my head was: Don’t cry for me Argentina.

So I said that back to the friend-of-a-friend: “Don’t cry for me Argentina!” I said it with so much attitude that I almost snapped my fingers like a sassy black woman.

He just looked back at me baffled.

In that moment I found clarity and, in the weeks that followed, I ran the song and its lyrics through my mind and sometimes sang them out loud.


Don’t cry for me Argentina
The truth is I never left you
All through my wild days
My mad existence
I kept my promise
Don’t keep your distance.

The lyrics make no literal sense, even in the context of the musical (“Evita”) when Eva Peron sings it to her adoring mob. They have been chanting “Eva! Eva! Eva!” She comes to the balcony of the Casa Rosada and answers them with this ballad.

As I wrote this I began to realize that the “cry” wasn’t boo-hoo, weeping, but rather calling out. The crowd is crying out her name so she sings to quiet them while laying out some personal actualization as political theater.

It made no difference. The abstraction of the lyrics and killer melody allow anyone - me, for example - to project themselves into the song. As I puttered around my apartment, unemployed, yet defiant and rueful, I sang these lyrics again-and-again and I felt coherent and empowered.

Losing my job and looking for another had been aggravating and tedious, but it was also thrilling.

I found something clarifying. As I looked at my profession, my experience, and my value, I began to sell myself like a goddamn gold standard!

And more, I didn’t like the job I lost. The only thing that was going to make me quit was being asked to leave.

As for the end of my five-year marriage, that sucked. And I had a mortgage where I now owed more than the apartment was worth after it devalued. And my severance had dwindled and I was dipping into savings.

As each woe piled on top of me, I kept thinking that I could not take on one more problem and yet I did. I did not panic. I did not cry. Oh no, not I! Handling that level of responsibility in the face such adversity made me feel like a bad-ass. From the depths of my soul, the guts of my being, I felt like a Phoenix rising out of the ashes.

I had a plan:
1. Get a job
2. Pick the least terrible option for condo
3. Separate and divorce

By the first week of February I had accomplished #1, when I started a good job after fielding two other offers. Now my husband and I are working through tasks two and three.

I changed my Facebook “relationship status” to “It’s complicated.” That, without intention or malice, became a public declaration resulting in comments and messages from concerned friends.

What really tickled me was the friend who “liked” it with the wee thumbs up icon. Some people might think that bad taste or just a bizarre by-product of the Facebooking of our lives. I appreciated it. I liked my new relationship status too. It’s forward moving and leaves opportunity for someone new.

I appreciate every one's concern - friends, family, strangers.

“I still need your love after all that I’ve done,” but “don’t cry for me Argentina.”

Please like my status.

I’m good.