Cultivating secrets

I’m back from my first real, planned vacation ever. (When did my life get so good?)

I went glamping for three nights (which was incredible and everything it’s cracked up to be), and as soon as I got back, it was WDS weekend. I thought a few days of relaxing in the forest would put me in the perfect headspace to come back and rock the many social gatherings planned that weekend, but it was a shockingly rough transition.

Don’t get me wrong – this was an amazing week. I got to spend most of it with all of my favorite people, my best friend came and stayed with me, the gatherings I went to were delightful, and it all culminated in one of the best nights out singing karaoke I’ve ever had.

But I’ve come to appreciate and really enjoy these weekends where I’m disconnected. My time gets spent reading and writing and hiking and loving on the people I’m with. It’s exactly what I want. Really, the more I get off the internet, the more I realize how exhausted I get when I’m constantly plugged in. This morning, I went to write about the past week, and the thought crossed my mind that I don’t want to.

And that is very, very odd for me. And I don’t really know what that means. But I don’t want to write about these most intimate details just yet. I want to savor and cherish them. These are for me.

Given of all this, I’m going to take the rest of July to recuperate, complete some client work, finish my next free e-course – Take Center Stage, and refine my book proposal. I’ll start blogging again in August, most likely.

If you’d like to stay in touch, you can follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

If you’d like to work with me, I’m now booking for Fall 2015. Email me at Dusti.Arab@gmail.com, tell me about your project, and I’ll be in touch.

And if you’d like the new e-course once it’s done, sign-up here.

See you in August.

8 Lessons I Learned Busking as a Disney Princess

Last summer, I started a princess party company. It was fun and picking up steam fast, but in February, I was going through so many other things (and had a full time job), so I gave the company to my business partner. It was definitely the right call to let it go (HAH), but lately, I have been missing just glitzing up and going out.

So I decided to pick up a new Elsa costume and go busking. Because why not? I get a performing fix, kids get to see their favorite character, and hey, I can pay for more costumes this way. (Working on a 7 of 9 get up for September!)

Busking is quite a bit different than going to a planned, structured children’s party, though. Here’s a few lessons I’ve learned.

1. People are, in fact, usually good.

I was surprised by who would approach me in costume. Some kids, some adults, some randos who didn’t want a photo. Mostly older people who seemed to just appreciate I was something beautiful.

2. Having an established character simplifies a lot.

Most people aren’t trying to figure me and my shtick out. I’m a somewhat known quantity which makes me safer to approach for most people.

3. It’s as good for me as it is for them.

Walking up to the corner I’d chosen, I felt a few nerves, but the big, goofy smile on my face was genuine. Standing up there greeting strangers, I was vulnerable. I could be rejected. I was rejected often. Because I was – I am – out of the ordinary, I make people uncomfortable.

4. So many connections = so much exhaustion.

Even as an extrovert in flats, experiencing so many moments of connection so rapidly was surprisingly exhausting. 70 minutes of busking on a Tuesday evening and $40 later (Woo! My costume will pay for itself in no time!), I was having trouble balancing on my box. Just a smile, wave, and “Good evening!” performed 100 times is an experiment in energy management.

5. Eat/drink right before you go.

This should have gone without saying, considering how many children’s parties I’ve done. During my princess party days, I might as well have been carrying around a “Powered by Starbucks” sign with as many Frappuccinos as I chugged to stay continually Disney-levels of perky.

6. A fork will pull money out of that vase you thought was such a good idea.

Ahem.

7. By simply being, I am a challenge.

There were quite a few people who looked openly disturbed when I attempted to engage them. I’d make eye contact, smile, and bow to them, and they’d quickly look away and walk faster. My demeanor scared them. My openness challenged them to interact with me, to remove themselves from their reality for a moment to be fully present. If you’re not used to that, it can be a terrifying prospect.

8. I need more of a challenge.

I didn’t expect the whole experience of busking to be so… easy. Don’t get me wrong. Boldness is a second language for me, but the idea of jut standing on a corner and drawing the attention of hundreds of strangers? Even I balk at that. That said, I’ve spent a lot of time as Elsa, and it felt remarkably comfortable. I want more of an opportunity for vulnerability than that.

Who knows what character I’ll play next?

P.S. I made this video for a friend’s kiddo. If you’d like one, drop me a line. I love this shit.

Embracing ease

Aside from a kiddo with some major tummy problems, today was pretty fantastic. This has been week one back to freelancing… and now I’m on vacation. Not just any vacation mind you – my first, real, scheduled vacation ever. Never before have I trusted myself to take time off, because you always have to be hustling, right?

Nope. Not anymore.

If I’ve learned anything this past year, I’ve learned to embrace ease.

As a self-identified rebel, it’s hard to just things as they are. More than that, it’s hard to accept that even if I long for change and growth and more, I am (personally) already enough in this situation. That doesn’t accuse me from doing the work. Far from it. If I can trust my own strengths and my ability to take right action, I damn well better be doing it.

But often, just by asking myself, “What feels right? What feels light?” I’ll find myself staying on the right path. No matter the transition I’m going through, I have what I need to navigate it.

The past six months have brought so many changes and transitions that I couldn’t have imagined (and well, some that I could) that sometimes I think I should feel overwhelmed. This has been a big six months of firsts for me. Lucky for me, it’s been more ups than downs. Far from feeling overwhelmed, for the first time in my life I feel like I have the space to move forward in confidence. I don’t have to second guess or wonder if I made the right call.

This is ease.

It’s easy to curate things and make everything look peachy keen on Facebook. I hope I don’t do that too often, even though I do try to steer towards the positive. There is so much strife in the world right now, and one of the things I’m constantly thinking about is how to use my privilege for good. (Also transitioning from being marginalized to a privileged position? Fucking hard. I wish more people would talk about this. Or at least talk to me about it.)

But today, today was very good. I got my new website pictures back from my incredible photographer. I got to spend the day relaxing (mostly) with my kids. I even had the time to write a little.

Really. How does it get any better than this?

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Friendship, romance, and commitment

Bri is my first Portland friend I’ve made since moving. Fresh out of Tri-Cities, she didn’t know anyone around here either, and we’ve taken to meeting up at the drop of a hat. She is magic, an absolute delight to be around. Passionate, fun, and incredibly (and genuinely) sweet, she has been editing a short film she’s been working on about a whirlwind romance she’s experienced that had ended as quickly as it began when her boyfriend was killed in a car crash.

The effect of the tragedy on her and how she processed it through her incredible art is nothing short of inspiring, and every time we get together, the kinds of conversations that fuel your best creative work are inevitable. Yesterday over cocktails, we talked about our respective weekends and the details that made them so delicious. With both of us in fresh relationships, there’s plenty to share.

I mentioned that even though my weekend with Daniel did not go quite as planned, it still turned out pretty well. (After an inordinate amount of time stuck in traffic and then spending an hour trying to figure out accommodations, you might say we were lucky to discover we could handle each other in a less than optimal scenario.) But the beach was lovely in that overcast Oregon way, the pauses were as rich as the conversations, and everything ended up working out in a delightful if unexpected way. Aware that I’m still in a place with this relationship where things are new and passion-fueled, I said so. I don’t want things to appear perfect when they aren’t, and I want to keep myself honest about the whole thing.

Bri smiled, sighed, and said she didn’t want to lose that feeling of passion. As soon as she did, I stopped for a moment. Recollections of the books I’ve been reading and the women who wrote them started popping up. Because the reality is as much as you might want to you can’t hold on to that freshly passionate feeling forever.

The thing is, I understand what she means. There is nothing like those first passionate moments with someone – or that perfect first kiss. God, the first time Daniel and I kissed was unforgettable. After a few weeks of very intentional not touching while we were hanging out – oh, bless his self control, for I have none – he was getting ready to leave my apartment, and I gave him a hug goodbye. (This is normal behavior for me. I hug the people I care about, just in case.)

But, I couldn’t help but linger a moment. As I slowly pulled back, my face brushed against his, and our lips met. I could feel his kiss shoot through me down into my toes, my fingertips tracing his shoulders. I hesitated a moment to give him space, to make sure this is actually what he wanted, too.

And when he leaned in and kissed me back, I wished he’d never stop. He grasped at my waist, and my breath quickened. It was electric, overpowering.

But we forced ourselves to separate, wordlessly acknowledging the night was over. I didn’t want to ruin this by rushing into things, and he was smart enough to pull away before things were past the point of no return.

But oh god. Laying down in my bed that night, thoughts of him and the moment just passed filled my head, and I couldn’t help but think about how that was the best kiss I’d ever had.

(Sidenote/actual question: WHY DID NO ONE EVER TELL ME HOW AWESOME WELL-KEPT FACIAL HAIR IS?!)

That moment of passion is something I’ll carry with me. And I’m sure there will come a point where I will long for that again. It wasn’t so long ago I was craving that kind of fiery connection. But even as wonderful as that moment and that kiss was, the only reason it happened that way was because of the intense emotional nature of mine and Daniel’s relationship prior to ever getting anywhere near each other.

And really, that kind of intensity isn’t sustainable. I know that. Besides, the state of infatuation renders you unable to think clearly about anything. It literally changes your brain chemistry. The early stages of love transform an otherwise healthy brain into something that closely resembles that of an addict, because as it turns out, that rush of chemicals your body releases are addictive. And as much as I enjoy it, and hope everyone gets to enjoy some of the high that comes from those initial pangs of infatuation, I also deeply appreciated this past weekend of a completely different variety.

After spending another weekend with Daniel, I’ve noticed there’s a comfortable rhythm being established, one that you only get with some measure of familiarity. Not too comfortable – this relationship is bringing up some serious, deep-seated personal issues I need to address, continually making me question how I’ve come to be who I am and choosing who I will become in the future.

But, there is a certain level of wonderful being able to show easy tenderness, to trust that whatever comes up will get handled.

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed, a book she wrote when marrying her lover became unavoidable if they wanted to live together in the United States. It might sound odd to word it like that, but I understand her hesitation with the situation. After a failed marriage or even a serious failed relationship, there are fears and insecurities that get brought up and must be dealt with  if there is any hope of growth and not repeating mistakes.

Committed’s relevance for me right now is uncanny. As I’m considering what caused previous relationships to fail, I have the benefit of what feels like a wise, older friend giving me advice with a tale she’s woven from personal experience and relationship research. Since my split with my ex, I’ve wondered at my own ability to commit. Is that something I even had the capacity for?

Looking back in my journal over the past few months, the story line whips along like wind on a coastline and some of the threads I’m still exploring are beginning to come together.

I am so fearful, afraid of committing to anything outside of myself. Except I know that’s not true. I am committed to truth, to my kids, to never settling. I am committed to finding my way and not repeating mistakes. I am committed to being true to myself, even if they don’t understand. 4/1/2015

When Bri talked about maintaining passion, all of this fresh input gave me pause. Because as stunning and potentially life-changing as that passionate feeling is, there is something Gilbert mentions that I’ve heard time and again in these books and stories of decades-long marriages. It’s never quite been defined for me in ways that were more than anecdotal, because I’m not sure you can.

There seems to be this relationship maturity makes up the coals that passion leaps from. And with a little more research, it turns out that is more or less the case.

Love is beginning to become a hot topic among social scientists, and Susan Kraus Whitborne Ph. D., a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts who studies fulfillment, has summarized the differences between passionate love and that slow-burning, longer lasting love – a major part of what brings humans fulfillment. In particular, a study by Oklahoma State psychologist Robert Sternberg (1997) she references introduced me to this concept of “triangular love” where the most vital factors for long-term intimacy are explored.

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It appears the phrase I was searching for beyond that idea of infatuation, or more appropriately “romantic love,” was this concept of consummate love. With identifiable variables, this seems a little easier to define or at least to understand.

It’s more than the heated passion that comes with those first sparks. It’s more than the hollow commitment left after the fire has faded. It’s that deep, connected feeling that says “I am in this with you. It’s going to be hard, we’re going to fight – and I’m not going anywhere.”

That sounds right to me. I have never experienced that feeling, and I don’t think most people ever will. But I think that is actually what we want when we fall in love. I think that’s where that longing for another person to share a life with comes from – the desire for partnership that can withstand hardship with enough work. It’s a desire for commitment most of us have a hard time quantifying in a culture that tells us you have to have your own back.

I’ve certainly made that mistake of pulling back from a relationship when things got difficult because the cost of being vulnerable, of admitting that just maybe I needed someone else and their help, simply felt too high. It turns out those are exactly the kinds of relationships that aren’t worth very much.

And yet this longing remains. This search to find someone you’re suitably compatible with, someone you’re willing to commit to doing the work with, someone you can make compromises with, someone who you will be there for and you unequivocally trust that they will be, too. What a terrifying prospect. This longing is wrapped up in so much long-term vulnerability you can plan on it being just as exhausting as it is illuminating, as frustrating as it is wondrous.

In America, we’ve been sold a false bill of goods. The idea that a relationship should fulfill all of these disparate and imperfect parts of ourselves is laughable, that passion can and must be maintained for ultimate happiness, and of course the idiotic, Disney-style delusion that a quality relationship isn’t work.

When I think of the married couples I most admire, I can’t help of my friend, Nina, and her husband, Ian. When Nina and I first met, they were on the verge of divorce after almost ten years together, and Nina was incredibly unhappy. We mutually whinged about our respective relationships and how they were failing us, failing to see our own part in that – an utter lack of willingness to be open with someone who we’ve allegedly joined forced with in the name of love and being a better joint unit.

Of course, that doesn’t work if you’re not vulnerable with your partner.

Nina and Ian ended up making the choice to open up to each other, to answer each other’s bids, and to keep working towards meeting each other’s needs while maintaining their own identities. To date, they have one of the strongest relationships of anyone I’ve ever met, and their dedication to making it work and to one another makes me believe that this idea of consummate love is possible. They aren’t perfect, but they are committed.

I hope I can say the same someday.

 

Fuck you, I quit! and fuck ups as a freelancer (also announcements)

Last year, after a whole lot of frustrating life events, I gave up.

After years of freelancing, small businesses, and working my ass off, I’d had enough. Nothing seemed to stick the way I wanted it to, and I was always in financial crisis mode. The constant hustling was taking a toll on me, and most of what I’d worked on, while providing incredible learning and growth opportunities, had been financial failures. (To be clear, I was always making money, but it was never enough to not worry at least a little bit about making rent every month.)

I decided I wanted a real job.

The kind where you made a salary, got health benefits, the whole shebang. The consistency sounded so sexy and secure given how not stable my living situation was at the time, and it meant I didn’t have to always be hustling so hard.

Cover letters were written. Applications were sent out. And I interviewed with some pretty impressive, name-drop-worthy companies. In one case, I made it to the top 7 out of a pool of 150 for an executive position with a swanky Portland hotel – with exactly zero industry experience.

But as flattering as the interviews were, no one hired me.

Finally, I got hired by a tech company, and then another. I’d gotten exactly what I wanted – a content marketing position with a funded startup based out of San Francisco. Go me! Great success!

I visited San Francisco back in March, which was a fascinating experience (especially since I’d made the final call on my relationship split before I hopped the plane). I did tequila shots with Imgur’s CEO, danced with someone in a giraffe suit, and finally felt like I fit in somewhere for a change. SF is all abuzz with this unquantifable ambitious energy generated by people who want to reach their goals as badly as you do. But as an acquaintance noted, “SF is like a pressure cooker.” A few days there, and I was toast.

Highlights aside, the trip was very, very strange, and a month into working for this new company, I had my doubts about whether or not this was the life I actually wanted. As it turns out, the majority of bro-centric startup culture is awful for someone who doesn’t think work should be your whole life. At least not working for someone else. Harumph. It wasn’t a good culture fit, you might say.

These things don’t always turn out like we plan.

Sometimes, you get what you want, and you realize you were chasing somebody else’s dream.

I’d been frustrated as a freelancer, but that’s because I was doing it wrong. Always stressed, always launching, always falling short of the work I wanted to put into the world, and always, ALWAYS terrified of doing the kind of work I desperately wanted to, I had found myself in a struggle business owners often do – I’d built myself a job I hated.

A short list of things I did wrong as a freelancer:

  • Not charging enough
  • Being inconsistent
  • Going off-brand
  • Doing ALL THE THINGS
  • Failing to delegate 9 times out of 10
  • Not niching down
  • Not asking for help
  • Not asking for testimonials
  • Wasting time on tactics
  • Working with just anyone
  • Not following up after completing projects

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. If you could find a way to fuck up as a freelancer, you can basically guarantee I have done that.

Want proof? My first client was a stranger I’d met over Skype who I worked for a rate I couldn’t believe she was willing to pay me ($12 an hour), ghostwriting a book on man catching. Four months into this very strange project, I found out she was a 19 year old stripper trying to become internet famous. I was a little more careful with client intake after that one.

But I learned from my mistakes. Things got a little better every gig. Some projects went incredibly well. Others, well, they went embarrassingly poorly. But with this whole REAL job thing, I didn’t need to freelance.

But the chronically self-employed can never really ignore that siren call of being their own boss, because they just aren’t very good at working for other people. They have a vision of what they think the future should look like, and it centers around doing their work their way. (It’s also terrifying to have all your eggs in one basket if you’ve ever lost a job.)

A former client who I’d had a wonderful engagement with years ago reached out to me about the time I moved into Portland – oh synchronicity! – and asked if I was taking on any work. Her work is beautiful and vital. How could I possibly say no?

Working with her was every bit as joy-inducing as I remembered. Soon, another perfect-fit client was referred my way. Then another.

The projects I had were going so smoothly, I could hardly believe it. Clients were happy. I was happy. I started Paul Jarvis’s Creative Class just to make sure I didn’t fuck anything up. (Highly recommended. I’m still implementing all of the goodness from it.)

Between referrals and all of the guest posts lining up and driving more traffic my way, it wasn’t long before my freelance client load matched what my day job was paying me. Which was amazing, except that there aren’t enough hours in the day for that sort of thing to be sustainable for long.

The thing was working in tech wasn’t nearly as satisfying as working with creatives who are actively changing the world. It also didn’t pay nearly as well, since I started charging the rates I should be for someone with my skill set. (Writer with an acting background? Why yes, I can channel you almost verbatim on to the page.)

So last week, I made the choice to let that vision of being a Silicon Valley, full-stack content marketer go.

Don’t get me wrong. My job was great. I had a lot of creative freedom, had a lot of opportunities, and the title of this post is a total misnomer. I left with plenty of notice and all those polite things you do when you leave a company you don’t loathe. Today was my last day with that company, and I’m back to freelancing for the coaches and creatives I love working with so much. (Really. So much love for these incredible women I have the privilege of working with.)

Because maybe – just maybe – it’s okay to change your mind about these sorts of things.

So what’s next?

Well, that’s easy. More connections, more adventures, more of what makes me happy.

I love telling stories. I need the time to devote to writing my next book, to working with clients who I adore, to enjoying a summer being young and in love, to playing with my kids before they both are in school this fall. These are the things that matter to me, and these are the things that deserve my attention.

Writing Availability: I have a very limited number of openings for new clients for this summer, and I’m booking now for fall 2015. I just revamped my offerings to three very specific, story-driven packages – and I think you’re going to love them. Check them out here.

WDS Unconferencers Write-in – This low-key event is free, and I’ll be there as your host and to edit anything you’d like. Often at conferences, I feel like I need a detox from all of the ongoings – which generally translates into needing to hunker down somewhere and write. Please RSVP so I can let the cafe know how many to expect.

Stop Blending In: A Workshop for Women in Transition – Transition is fucking hard. But you know what’s harder? Waking up one day and realizing you’re living a life you never signed up for.

Complete with swag, mimosas, and a real relationship building opportunity, this two-hour workshop will put practical and powerful tools in your hands so you can stop blending in – and start stepping out into the world as boldly as you want to. This will be a very intimate gathering (in my living room!) and only 10 spots are available.

A story about a father

On March 20, 2014, I had my world rocked by doing something I do nearly everyday – just checking my email.

I had received an email from a man named Larry, who started his letter apologizing for the strangeness of what he was about to say. He proceeded to explain that he had been involved with a woman with my mother’s name from the city my mother was living in at the time – and had been searching for his daughter for 20 years. She’d been born on February 9th, 1988 – my birthday.

I must have reread that email 100 times before it finally sunk in. I had a father. I had a father who had been looking for me. I’d always assumed whoever my dad was probably wasn’t a guy worth knowing anyway, and the thought that someone somewhere out there was looking for me had never crossed my mind as a possibility.

I called the numbers he’d left in the email, his sisters’ phone numbers to confirm he was who he said he was. Everything in his story checked out. And perhaps the strangest thing of all was his address. He lived 40 minutes away from me, 10 away minutes from my aunt. We’d even briefly crossed paths in Germany when I was 4.

We sent a few more emails back and forth. We got to know each other a little bit. I couldn’t believe it. This was never something I’d expected.

But there’s often a reason we don’t expect these kinds of things to happen in our lives. They sound like a movie – like it’s a moment too good to be true. And it was.

I’ve always had a rough relationship with my mother. She’d never given me any information about my father. Not even as an adult. Not even when I’d asked. For whatever reason, this was not information I was to be entrusted with. No one else in my family knew who he was either, and the wisps of hearsay and rumors didn’t amount to more than a little smoke. It was her choice to make, but given this turn of events, I was finally given the reins to handle this situation. I could finally get some answers, whether I was prepared for them or not.

I told her someone claiming to be my father had contacted me, and she finally gave me a name.

It wasn’t Larry’s.

I was crushed. We had a paternity test done, and it confirmed what my mom had said. Larry was not my father. As much as he wanted to be, and as much as I found myself wishing he were, the test was 98% accurate.

But besides my heartbreak over this was an underlying rage over the injustice of it all. All I could think was about how this poor man had carried this weight with him for 25 years, thinking about how somewhere out there he had a daughter he couldn’t find. Once he returned from his many overseas tours in the military, he hired a private investigator, managed to finally find her, and it turned out, she was never his to begin with. Now in his 50’s, unmarried, and otherwise childless, this left him very alone in the world.

A moment’s carelessness between two people from a time before I was ever even considered has now had a ripple effect on the lives of many others. My very existence is a blessing and a curse, and I wonder at the resentment that very being has caused. I wonder how my otherness has been the cause for sadness, anger, fear I didn’t understand.

As for whoever my biological father was, I did have the right name now, but I didn’t know whether or not to follow up on it. My heart was so heavy from this whole experience. But again, I was not the one who had carried this knowledge with me for a quarter of a century.

Last week, I finally met Larry. He was exactly what I expected; a man who’d put in a lifetime in the military, came home and became a diesel mechanic, put in his time and did the work. An every man. A good man. There was no question about his motives with me, and it was clear he’d had a hard time letting go of the idea that I was his. I’d become a ghost who, for one day, finally came to life. We agreed to meet again in a few weeks.

Somehow, I held it together for the duration of the conversation. Walking away, tears streamed down my face. I committed to pursuing this course until it runs how it will.

So at the end of this summer, it looks like I’ll be visiting Little Rock, Arkansas and figuring out what’s next in this whole chapter for me. I mean, I’m writing a book on relationships, so it’s only fitting to include something as juicy as going back to my roots and meeting my unknown parent from the south, right? (God help me.)

Regardless of what happens, I’ll have found some closure around this. And who knows? Maybe that 2% error margin was legit. Or maybe, I’ve just met a very important new friend.

P.S. Happy Father’s Day to my not-dad, Larry. You’re still a pretty righteous dude.

The pursuit of happiness (a love story)

We chase an awful lot that doesn’t matter. This year, I decided right from the get go that I was going to pursue money, sex, and status. Money was freedom. (To a small extent, I still believe that.) Independent women go after what they want, and I wanted sex. (I thought.)

So pursue I did. I got a new job with a startup based out of San Francisco working remotely, which was exactly what I wanted. After I had moved into Portland and started my next chapter of life, sex was readily available. Status? Well, that was only a matter of time given everything else, right?

And as soon as I got close enough to taste this new life… I realized how little either of those things mattered to me.

Confession time

My name is Dusti Arab. (No, really.) I’m twenty seven years old, I have two children, I’ve been through two divorces, and until spring of 2015, I had never been on a real date. (No, really.)

Everything started back in January when I chose my yearly theme: mischief. (How little did I know.)

Life hadn’t turned out quite like I planned. Somehow, I ended up becoming a mere player in someone else’s story, a shell of who I was, and I’d had enough. I was bored out of my mind and was craving something, anything out of the ordinary. I longed for adventure, for fun, for mischief. 

I was talking with a coworker, Daniel, about the state of my life and my marriage. I don’t even remember how we started talking. Well, it might have had something to do with where our desks were. Where he was sitting, I directly in his line of sight… and I could feel him watching me from time to time. Our jobs had almost nothing to do with one another, and the first words out of my mouth to him at lunch one day were (I kid you not), “I’ll cut you.”

I told him how miserable I was and about my way of skillfully avoiding dealing with my trainwreck marriage until I made enough money to leave. Then I came on to him super hard, immediately regretted it, was incredibly grateful he was a decent guy who saw I was going off the deep end… and realized exactly how insane I was acting.

That conversation was my tipping point.

Something had to give. I had some tough decisions in my near future to make, and for the first time, I was finally able to see somewhat clearly. I had to confront my fears long enough to plan an escape route.

I knew there was no salvaging the emotionally and physically abusive relationship I’d spent the last five years trying to make work. There was no fixing something like this.

So I made a list of things I wasn’t going to accept anymore, things I wouldn’t tolerate. Even if I wasn’t 100% clear on what I wanted, I knew what I didn’t want. It was a start.

So I set the ball in motion.

I needed a lot of change, and I needed it fast. An ending and a beginning. It was time to close doors.

First off, I had to tell my ex that it was over. That was going to go over well. I was choosing to split up our family, that for all of its faults and dysfunction, was still a family unit our kids relied on. And since this was my choice, the hardship it would cause my kids would be naturally be all my fault. But a few weeks later while I prepped to leave for a business trip at 3:00am, there was a crying, messy scene that ended with a final, “It’s over” before I walked out the door.

Second, I needed to move out of the suburbs. (Did I mention I’d been living in the backyard of a cult?) I lived in sleeper suburb populated by Nike and Intel employees on the outskirts of the Portland metro area, and it was… suffocating. I was reasonably involved in the community, and everyone knew everyone. And people talked. I couldn’t handle any of that right now. I needed a break from small towns and small-mindedness. It was time to head to the city – to Portland.

And finally, I needed a fail-safe. I needed some sort of insurance policy that I wouldn’t just rebound back into a shitty relationship. I wanted to focus on my relationship with myself, making new friends, and creative pursuits. What better fuel was there for a writer than angst, loneliness, and learning-to-be-aloneness?

So I took on a challenge.

Because I knew myself well enough to know how boy/girl crazy I can get, I came up with an idea: a challenge. 52 dates in 52 weeks. I was going to learn how to date. It’d keep me occupied. Besides, as a writer, the idea of blogging about my ongoing challenge absolutely appealed to me. I even told my writing group which meant I had to do it. (It’s sacred once you’ve told your writer friends because they know exactly how hard it is to share a pet project like that.)

I was on a mission to discover myself and my truth, this new, independent version of me outside of a relationship – but that didn’t mean I couldn’t concurrently figure out what I wanted in a relationship, in another person. (And I mean, let’s be real here. Girl’s gotta get laid.)

I cast lines out. The moment I said I was single publicly, I was shocked at how many male friends suddenly came out of the woodwork to support me (you know, in a myriad of ways). I had dates lined up, fuck buddies ready to go, big talk talked. OkCupid had been entirely too good for my ego. (I don’t know what people are talking about when they say they have trouble with online dating. A week on the site, and I had 1200 people to sift through.)

It wasn’t until I was in a position where the possibility of getting laid came up that I came to a very sudden conclusion.

Everything had been good up this point. I’d had a good time on this date with this person. I found this person attractive and intelligent. There was nothing stopping me or holding me back. And everything in my being just froze at the thought of taking it one step further. I just couldn’t do it.

Here’s an approximate version of how that internal dialogue went.

WHAT THE HELL, BODY? You hassle me about sex ALL. THE. TIME. And game time comes up, and you’re just not having it? HMM? Oh. Oh, it’s my brain? I’m sorry, what was that? Wait. What? Excuse me? I am WHAT?!

After I stopped arguing with myself, I realized I actually wasn’t interested in dating around. Or casual sex.

After all that, I didn’t want to be that girl.

Why?

Because I’d fallen in love.

This was not part of the plan.

NOT PART OF THE PLAN. My red flags were on full alert – was I rebounding? Just lonely and unsure of how to deal with it? In other circumstances, I might have wondered at my own motives, but that wasn’t it. I’d never felt like I was thinking so clearly. And I had been successfully “dating myself” for weeks. Extroverted or not, I liked being alone. It turns out I’m great company because I always know exactly what I want to do. I have become a self-care queen over the past few months.

But the realization left me reeling. How could this have possibly happened?

After my marriage was over, I was so convinced I was going to be that girl from Chicago. I was going to play the field, stay at my edges, and be that girl I’d seen I was capable of being. Relationships were a game, and no matter what kind of deeper connection I might want, that was just the reality of it.

Except I didn’t think that was actually true. That wasn’t me anymore, and despite what I thought before, that wasn’t what I wanted. So what did I want?

I wanted to be strong and independent. And I was. I called my own shots, pursued what I was interested in, and otherwise did what I wanted.

I wanted to embrace this new person who was revealing herself to me as I peeled off layers of other people’s baggage. And I was. I’d never felt so delightfully feminine or owned so many dresses or felt so ridiculously comfortable in my own skin.

But really, when it came right down to it?

What I wanted was Daniel.

Back in January, I had dumped out my whole mess of a life story and struggles to him – because I was pretty sure I was never going to see him again. But he kept talking to me. I talked to him from the time I left that company, during my trip to San Francisco, and through all of the transition while I dismantled my marriage.

Over the past couple of months, Daniel and I had some great conversations, but once I moved into Portland, I had no motives other than sex when it came to any of my male interests. I had invited him out to things I was going to – usually dancing. (Part of my self-prescribed therapy plan.) It was always no stress, no obligation. I would’ve have been completely fine going solo, but he had been taking dance lessons, so it worked out for him, too.

The thing was he never told me no (even though I found out later the amount of time he spent driving to and fro was erring on the side of ridiculous) – notably, except for when it came to sex. (For MONTHS.) My crazy didn’t seem to scare him away, which was amazing to me, because clearly, I had crazy going on in spades.

Well, at least I used to. It’s pretty amazing what getting out of a totally fucked up situation will do for your mental clarity. Between taking my B vitamins, exercising enough, and getting as far away from other people’s crazy as I could, it turned out I was actually pretty intelligent. Like, I made good decisions independent of other people and what they thought I should do! This came as a slight shock to me after years of making many a poor, rushed decision in fight or flight mode.

But now that I had a stable income, stable housing, and complete autonomy, things were going distinctly well.

God, Daniel even made me feel like I had depth.

This wasn’t anything like I’d ever experienced before. This had nothing to do with comfort or convenience. In fact, just the opposite was true. What was so different about this?

He wasn’t like anyone I’d ever met. I’d always steered towards kind of effeminate guys. If I’m being honest with myself, they were the kind of men I could eat alive. They were easy. Safe. My relationships were held together with paper obligations, strings of empty promises, and the packaging of something that was never built to last.

Daniel challenged me. Broad-shouldered and brilliant, he was definitively a man. He cared about the planet, his family, and how he showed up in the world. I’d never been with someone so secure in their masculinity, so sure of their body. I loved it. The way he wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me in close to him was disorienting, overpowering.

It’s been a wild ride.

I can’t get over how good this has been. How my mind has been changed about so many things. How hard and fast I fell in love with someone I could never have anticipated.

I’ve been afraid to be open about the full weight of my happiness. But the simplicity and ease of days enjoyed and unrushed is too wonderful not to share. It seems my theme of mischief has run its course, and in its place, the best place to remain seems to be firmly rooted in that word enjoy. I’ve never been content to just be before, but now I can’t imagine anything I’d like to do more.

In Seattle, reflecting on the past few months, anticipating the rest of the summer, and loving every second of my present reality, it occurs to me that I’m not overcome by it all. This feels right. I thought I was going to be telling a story about finding yourself through connections with other people – and I am. But the people involved are far more dear to me than I would have guessed.

So this is the next chapter. This one’s about a love story.

Sextional

This is the poem I performed live at the Portland Poetry Slam this past Sunday. In many ways, it encapsulates the transition I went through this past April – moving from who I thought I wanted to be into more of who I actually was.

This one’s for Daniel. Enjoy.

Guys, I have a confession. When it comes to sex… women have been lying. Yep. The ladies have been holding out on you. Are you ready for this? Here it is.

We think about sex just as much as you do.

Okay maybe I should just speak for myself. I think about sex at least as many times a day as you do. Possibly more. It can happen any time and without warning – kind of like a seizure. It’s practically a condition. There are many triggers that can start an episode.

There’s your run of the mill hot man candy memes. Hot dudes reading, hot dudes who play guitar, hot dudes with baby animals, hot dudes doing the laundry, hot guys drinking coffee, hot dudes playing with babies – Oh, be still my ovaries!

But don’t worry, guys. You don’t have to be all hey girl gorgeous to cause this reaction in women. Oh no. Everyone has their own brand of sexy, and I have unintentionally made it my personal mission to find it. Any situation played correctly can be a turn on.

Sometimes, it’s all intellectual, like that time you got my Firefly reference and then sang that Disney song at karaoke with zero prompting? Oh, I’d let you make a man out of me.

Sometimes, you’ve had a few drinks, like that time we were at the bar and I turned and suddenly realized you had such a glorious rack and I just wanted to… (pantomime face into tits)

Let’s be honest, it’s usually a purely physical instinct, oh god, like that time we were dancing and my hand accidentally brushed against your stomach and I felt your abs through your shirt and realized what a rockin’ bod you had and I just wanted to… (Insert obscene sexual gesture here. Deep breath, pause)

So I get it. I get how hard it is to focus. Oh my god, I don’t know how many times I’ve thought, if I could just. Stop. Thinking. About. Sex. I would get so much done. If I could stop thinking about getting off, I could get somewhere.

But I don’t want to get stuff done. I just want to get some. I just want to get with someone.

I just want someone to get me.

To get that I am more than this body I inhabit that is the constant subject of objectification. This body that is treated like a conquest, like something that needs to be controlled by anyone but its keeper. To get that there is more to me than my 27 inch waist.

I want someone to get how tired I am of being misunderstood, misinterpreted. To get how tired I am of being seen as this hyper sexual being because I am not afraid to ask for what I want. Because I am not afraid of my sexuality. Because I am assertive and sassy. Because I am *not* a dominatrix; and hey, if we’re throwing down labels, then I’m a creatrix, because what could possibly be sexier than possibility? The relentless pursuit of ideas and the act of breathing life into them?To get that I want reinvention and revolution because it fits me like a glove. To get that my fire, my voice, my heart is for you and that I will stand with you. To get that I long for depth and connection like a desert longs for rain. I want you to get me.And I want to get you. I want to know why you think the way you think, how you ended up so damn smart and compassionate, what it is that keeps you up late at night and makes you tick, who you want to be at the end of all of this.

I want to know those secret, hurting places you long to be kissed and press my lips to them like a salve. I want to know how to hold your heart so you feel like a missing piece of it has found its way back. I want to see your next stage of metamorphosis. I want to get you.

So I have a confession. When it comes to sex, I have been lying… to myself. I have been holding out thinking I could just get with someone, just get with you. But the terrifying thing is it turns out I just want you to get me.

But if you want to get with me, I’m totally down with that…