Among many other things, I remember how unexpectedly and intensely I fell in love with a woman named Monica.
I've had time to pick apart my feelings and understand why, and I've come to understand that the biggest factor in that intense attraction was my desire to be like her. I was not happy where I was, and had no idea what or how to change, and her sudden appearance catalyzed me. After our time, when our attempts to salvage some kind of connection fell apart, I realized that my pathway to healing and my pathway to becoming the new version of myself - whatever that was - lay at least partially in taking what I most appreciated in Monica and developing those qualities in myself; for myself. This realization was so important to me that I took a piece of paper and hung it by my bedroom door for a while, and wrote large letters on it spelling out, "If you can't do it alone, you can't do it with someone else."
My point was, it was time to stop thinking that the right kind of relationship - the right kind of partner - would magically resolve all my personal struggles and compensate for my deficiencies. I had a vision of what a truly awesome person was - of course I did, I'd been using it to seek romantic partners - and now it was time to inhabit that vision and live it, not live in its shadow or watch it from a distance.
So today, on the Friday of the week when I've started a new job, I think it's time to sit down and think about where I'm at, where I'm headed, and how I'm doing. Am I taking hold of that icon image, and claiming it for myself? Am I really getting my own idea of my own personal crap together? Let's take stock.
This Easter, for the first time ever, I got a chance to sit down and have a nice solid conversation with the husbands of both my sisters. Just us "men folk" talking and catching up! It was only afterwards that I realized it was long overdue. I've always felt that my extended family is a resource I haven't explored enough, and this is a step in the right direction. It will be good to make more steps.
A year ago, I was working at a job I thought I loved, but didn't really. I had become consumed by a kind of restlessness, a sense that life was passing me by, and it only grew worse despite huge life changes and long vacations. I left that job in defeat, rather than triumph, and I began to question everything about the way I made a living. The self-knowledge I had to uncover was bone-head obvious in retrospect: I like helping scientists! Four short words, and suddenly I knew what to do. It's good to be working again.
My house and my workplace are separated by two miles of busy Oakland street. Yesterday I rode those two miles on the recumbent in 13 minutes. Today I rode the recumbent home through mild traffic in 11 minutes flat, even after waiting at three stoplights. I hit 19mph on the straight section of San Pablo Avenue. I have no doubt that I am reaching my health goals. There is of course even more I want to do here, but consistent bike riding is a great foundation.
For the second time in two days, my oddly-shaped bicycle prompted a conversation in the parking garage, and I made a new friend. On the Bart platform two days ago my folding bike inspired a conversation with a guy who turned out to be a 20-something undergrad computer geek who lived in Fremont and had just finished an internship at a real-estate company. I shook hands with him and told him about my fancy website. Today at Pho 84 my iPad attracted a comment from a 60-something retired teacher at the next table, which turned into a half-hour conversation about technology, innovations, and the effect of handheld text communication on relationships and romance. As we were talking, a couple of young kids went walking by with their Dad, and one of them stopped to say hello. Turns out the retired teacher was tutoring the kid. Introductions all around, and I learned that the Dad was a co-owner of the restaurant. I don't know if I'm more approachable these days or what, but it's been easier than ever to meet new people. Maybe it's my new pants.
Yesterday after work and dinner, Erika and I made the long drive down to Sunnyvale to do karaoke at the King of Clubs. Bruce gave me a big hug when I appeared. Timmy, the fabulous bartender (it's a mostly gay bar after all) set out two icewaters, for Erika and I, without even being asked. Love that guy. My first song of the evening was a tossed-off performance of "Take The Skinheads Bowling". After that I did a Weird Al favorite, "A Complicated Song". The bar loves Weird Al.
Karaoke has been a kind of miracle for me. I'd always wanted to share my singing but never felt anywhere near the threshold of talent to perform in a band. Karaoke takes all that external pressure off. People clap even if you sing like a gargling ostrich. Sometimes I've felt like I did just that. But I'm pushing myself, to go up there and sing things I enjoy, even songs that have been very special or privately important to me. Yesterday I passed another milestone.
At the bar, Erika began texting with Megan, who was literally home in bed in pajamas, and our appearance was so exciting that she decided to get up, get dressed, and drive out to the bar just to see us. When she arrived, she hugged us both, admired my new pants, and then took the microphone and gave a rousing, full-on performance of a KT Tunstall song. Then she presented her pile of song cards to me and said, "pick your favorites and I'll perform one of them next." So I sorted through the pile and encountered "Silent All These Years" by Tori Amos, and placed it on the very top of the stack.
Megan saw the card, and said, "this one, really?"
I replied, "Hell yes. I love that song. In fact if you sing that song, I'd love to sing it with you. I can harmonize to it."
She grinned. "It's a deal!" she said, and handed the card to Bruce.
So half an hour later, I found myself standing next to Megan, under the cheesy sparkling lights of the dance floor, singing "Silent All These Years" alongside her, leaning in to hear her timing and match it as much as I could. My voice wasn't warmed up and I didn't control my distance from the mic very well, but damn it, I sang that song. I still remember the very day, 20 years ago, when I first heard that song, and in fact I remember that day only because it was the day I heard that song. It's quite special to me, for reasons difficult to explain. Now, one random spring day of 2012, I've gone and performed it as a duet, with a new friend, in front of a dozen strangers. Utterly bizarre. And also - I am totally copping to this - kind of triumphant too.
We got a big round of applause, and when I sat down at the bar, the guy next to me complimented me on my harmonizing.
Why should brave people I admire get to take all the embarrassing risks, while I sit pie-eyed in the audience, clapping my hands? Why should a warm, effortlessly caring partner be the only one, of the two of us, to devote time and attention to my adorable nephews, and get to know the children of my friends, when I can - and should - and must - drive myself to deepen my own relationships with them? Being partnered to an excellent caregiver is no excuse to let those skills atrophy or lay fallow in myself. Why should I hide behind the outgoing nature of a partner who makes friends easily and constantly, using it as a shortcut or a shield, when I can develop and profit from my own outgoing nature instead? And, just as importantly, why should I fulfill my needs for private time in the gaps created by my partner's overt demands for it, when I would be much better off learning to make my own needs known, and respected?
I've spent a long time - a lot of my life - gathering information and learning from my mistakes. It feels fantastic to be putting so much of that to real use now.
During my big project meeting today I managed to cross-cut and shape a debate between a program director, a lead developer, and two frustrated scientists, to get them all on the same page, causing the director to exclaim, "Wow, we should have had this conversation two years ago." Don't get me wrong - they are all brilliant people, with evident talents that I am in awe of - but they were all talking over each other, too rapidly, and too excitedly, and no one was really listening. I came out of that meeting to a realization: People like me are very useful to people like this, not because I'm talented in the same way or know the same things, but because my personality is somewhat orthogonal to the kind of driven intensity of the scientists around me. I've written about this before; last year I think. There's something in me that loves to build consensus - is bent on it, eager for it - even if that consensus is that the given problem is intractable and no one can solve it and it's back to the drawing-board. And now I get to exercise that, plus my skill in interface design and programming, plus my fascination with a science I'm helping to pioneer.
Don't tell the HR department, but ... I would totally do this, even for half the pay. It's freaking awesome.
One of the things I admired most about Monica was the way she seemed to be bursting with energy and enthusiasm. It was like she was a natural battery, seething with chemical potential. By comparison, I was often exhausted, and felt unable to change that. Now that I'm riding my bike every single day, settling into a reconstructed diet, taking my vitamins (thanks to a few well-placed kicks from Erika and a new pill organizer I bought on Amazon), and doing Yoga, ... and now that I'm involved in important work and enjoyable play, with a stack of untried new challenges lined up for me, I feel that same spark of energy inside myself. Having it inside me feels much better than any amount of exposure to it from another person, near or far. I move differently. I engage with people differently.
This was not a hasty reinvention. The first spastic six months after my life turned upside-down - those were a hasty reinvention. And the cake that came out of that oven set the smoke alarm off for most of the next year. This is something else; something better. You know those t-shirts that say "self-rescuing princess"? This is me, a self-rescuing prince. This is me, picking my own ass up, and discovering, with great relief, that I don't have to find someone else to find myself. In the past I've defined myself by where I live, who I know, what I like, where I work, and who my partner is, but what the last two years have proven to me is this: Take all that away, and there is something left.
Ahem. Also, while this talk of self-actualization is grand, I must add that I dearly appreciate the advice and support I've received, especially these days from Erika. For example, I would not have found karaoke or Yoga so easily, without her enthusiastic sponsorship and encouragement. You rock, sweetie!