Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, Back to Therapy We Go


Tuesday night my partner came to the theater from her meditation class to nab a ride with me.  I asked her to drive and then went off on a rant, so I’m sure she wished she had waited for the T instead.

The precursor to the rant happened on Monday, as we ventured back into couples therapy with a therapist I have now named F$#^ing Ugly Head.  But I was not content to go off on only Monday night’s ridiculous couples session.  I had to include the fact, which I will now confess, that after Don’s death and the end of the theatre production, I went back to individual therapy as well, to see a grief counselor (more on this later).  And then I decided to try my partner’s new love, Internal Family Systems, so somehow I ended up with two therapists, which, considering how much I truly, and I do mean TRULY hate therapy, is beyond ironic.

Anyhow, we’re driving down Longwood, past the hospitals and the library where my partner works, the streets empty with those circles of light falling on the pavement, with the buildings in shadow, only the occasional doctor or nurse in green scrubs scurrying across the street.  I was like, “OH MY GOD, can you believe last night?”  My partner’s like, “I know.”

And that was all the permission I needed.  The rant went something like this:  “What is with her hair?  I mean, it doesn’t even have a part.  And that shirt.  I mean, it squashed her boobs, and frankly, I don’t want to see my couples therapist’s cleavage under any circumstances.  And if she asks one of those questions like “How does it feel to be seen by me and your partner?” again, I am going to scream, puke, and then walk out the door.  I mean, I don’t even know her.  I don’t f*&%ing care what she sees or doesn’t see!  Just get a new wardrobe, for Christsakes!  What is with these people?  I mean, the IFS one looks like she’s ready to burst into an interpretative dance at any moment and the grief counselor has little animals on her socks!”

My partner couldn’t stop laughing.  Then she’s like, “Wow, I don’t think this couples therapist is going to last long.  I mean, ‘F$%^ing Ugly Head?’ You must hate her a lot.”

Duh.

Then I made the mistake of asking her this:  “What do you think about my problem with the Interpretative Dancer’s tendency to diagnose and use labels from the DSM whatever?”

She said, “I think you have a point, but it’s also a really good trailhead for something big underneath.”

Trailhead is an IFS term for any event that leads to pain from the past.  I’d much prefer my partner had been referring to the South Kaibab Trail or Bright Angel, both paths at the Grand Canyon, where we met.  No such luck.

It took me a couple days to find the rant on that trailhead, which was not funny and was all about having my humanity diminished twice, the first time by people who hurt me enough to send me to therapy, and the second by the therapists, who reframe my experience, label me, analyze me, tell me who I am, and/or seem to get into how sexy, interesting and compelling I am, either hitting on me or telling me they wish they could be my friend/mother/student, etc.  I was crying during this rant, and fashion problems were not mentioned.

I do truly hate therapy.  And here’s the funny thing–the grief counselor, who I actually like, and, in spite of the animals on her socks, is often wise in how she handles me, is the one I seem least interested in working with.  I mean, she let me come in and talk and cry about Don for two months, barely saying a word (which, frankly, I think all therapists should learn to do–KEEP THEIR MOUTHS SHUT).  It’s clear she’s not diagnosing in an extreme way.  She’s irritating, occasionally, but she’s kind, and she’s just really good at seeing and witnessing instead of asking, “How do you feel about being seen by me?”  (To which, BTW, I responded, on Monday, with, “I don’t feel seen in couples therapy,” thereby confounding expectations and pissing FUH (acronym for F$$^ing Ugly Head) off enough for her to add, rather aggressively, “Do you want to be seen?”  I did not say, “Absolutely.  I’m going to start a new trend in streaking any moment now.  I hope your neighbors don’t mind.” <She sees people in her house.>)

Anyhow, the grief seems to have gotten better, and I’m no longer blaming myself for how powerless I was to save Don and get him better medical treatment, so therapy with the Grief Counselor has gotten kind of boring.  I’ve stopped going, at least for the next month, which is incredibly busy with work and yoga teacher training.

But couples therapy–my partner and I have gotten really happy and sweet again, which I attribute to having a butt for my jokes who is not her, and aligning ourselves against the common enemy: the couples therapist.

So while I think that FUH isn’t long for our world, I might as well milk her stupid questions for all they’re worth and just let myself behave miserably while I can.  I am so sick of being Buddhist and skillful with these people.  I am planning on going in to the Interpretative Dancer and saying, “So I suppose you have a thing for Isadora Duncan?”  I am planning on saying to FUH, “Have you read my blog on new fashions for therapists and wearing clothes that are not a size too small?”

I mean, would anyone die?

Of course, my partner reads this blog, so she’ll probably talk me out of the FUH idea, and I’ll have to be all skillful and say, “Let’s get real.  If this is going to work, you can’t ask me those therapist questions.  And, by the way, the next time I’m all vulnerable and telling my partner that she hurt my feelings, which is not easy for me, I’d suggest you not change the F$%^ING SUBJECT!”

Really.  What is WITH these people?

I Love My Life! (at least for the next 10 seconds)


Today I was in yoga teacher training after 5+ hours of working on devised theatre with 22 teens and some super talented adults.  And though I am so tired I keep walking into walls, forgetting things, adding things wrong, I am also grateful for the day.

Working backward, since I just returned from yoga teacher training, I have to say, where do these women come from?  I ordered a bunch of blankets and blocks in bulk for us, and I’m basically dealing yoga materials out of the back of my car, and everyone is so conscientious about giving me money, and trying to be generous about the better colors, or the better quality blankets, and I’m so spacey I walk away from the money with the trunk and car open and someone stays with it…I never really understood why I took this training and I still don’t, except that I really like being around these people.

Then, the yoga philosophy discussion was great.  Like church, just listening to what each person utilizes to pull him or herself toward the light, whatever that light is–but definitely non-harming.

And all this followed a day of coordinating the monologues and scenes the students wrote themselves with movement we’d found accidentally in improvisation with them, and watching it work, watching it fall into place, deep, sweet, young, holding every poignant thing about life.

So, for today, I love my life.  Even though I bought all these yoga materials thinking I was going to leave theatre behind in some way, and now I had a waiting list for my last acting class, registration coming in for fall, a new potential opportunity for a fall collaboration, auditions, etc.  So it seems like many of the blankets, straps, mats, etc might not get much use.  But, oh well.  I still get to love everything, to be doing the exact right thing, right purpose, right moment, right life.

I’m about to post on the yoga teacher training facebook why people should come to this teen show.  Not to support me.  But because it looks to be so magical and funny and moving, that the human experience of watching will be rare and full of wonder.

I’ll go back to complaining and having aversions and everything tomorrow.  After I get some f$#%ing sleep.

Prom


The devised theatre piece I’m working on at Stoneham Theatre is entitled PROM, and we’re making it from scratch.  The people involved are so talented and smart it’s like going to heaven.

Which, for some reason, has me thinking positives thoughts about my own proms, remembering them.  I mean, of course, I hated prom.  I am too non-conformist to like prom, and perhaps going to my proms kicked whatever desire to fit in was left right out of me.  I mean, two evenings of feeling uncomfortable in my own skin and not knowing why.  Not fun.  Why did I go?  Maybe because I wanted to be another girl entirely, maybe because I was beginning to realize I would not have one normal American experience–that everything I did:  high school, dating, prom, college, adult life–would be outside the boundaries of normal.  I had half-embraced the notoriety of this, but I still wished for the dream we are all promised.  Of course, because of this, I remember both my proms as nightmares.  But the truth is, both had really good things about them.

It’s senior prom that has captured my attention.  I didn’t drink by then, didn’t get high or do drugs like the other people my age, had no intention of partying or having sex.  I just wanted to go and have it be…something.  I asked my friend Reed to take me–I was 18, so he was 20 or 21, and so beautiful.  Long dark hair to his waist, smooth unblemished skin, dark eyes, slim hips, part Native American, he had grown up outside the norm, was a hippie and had hippie friends.  We worked together, and had become close, which surprised me at first–he seemed so out of my league, really, when I first started at the restaurant…older, beautiful, sophisticated, very, very smart.

Anyhow, Reed took me to prom.  He asked me about the other girls, the teachers, about the facts of my life at this school–which I never told anyone about.  He was attentive that way, caring, the whole night.  I felt so awkward that my other conversations felt painful, so it was mostly just us.  I was embarrassed I couldn’t have a better time or make sure he did.  So it wasn’t until now that I remember how wonderful he was to me.

When I dropped him off–no after-party, just prom and the letdown, and going home–he kissed me.  We’d fooled around a little once (which he followed by calling me up as soon as he got home to tell me that he still respected me and I shouldn’t worry about that), but we were friends.  No romantic anything.  But it was the sweetest kiss–I remember it now, the little smile on his face as he bent toward me, the feel of his lips, that attentiveness, that generosity.  It was a kiss that said, I love you, and I am going to give you the best prom kiss I can, because I am your friend and you deserve this.

I think back to that girl, to her terrible hope that prom would lighten the hardships in her life, and in the middle of learning that it wouldn’t, that nothing would, this gesture of kindness, generosity and love.

When he pulled away I looked at him in wonder.  I had kissed before, of course, but it still was a first–to be kissed by someone who knew and loved me, who understood, who gave out of understanding.  I hadn’t been in love yet, but remembering, letting myself really know that kiss, I feel a sense of awe.  How lucky I have been in my friendships.  How well I have been loved.  How much people have wished goodness for me.  How lucky I was to have him.

And here’s the funny thing–I understand his tenderness toward the girl I used to be.  He used to say, “I can’t wait to see what you’re going to be like once you get out of Catholic school.”  I was terrifically young in some of the ways I approached life and life’s passages.  But Reed and I grew close because we were both so sensitive and smart, because we had trouble with our families, because we could talk to each other in a way we couldn’t talk to other people.  We spent hours on the phone.  We spoke the same language.  I think we just liked to be together.

And here’s the thing, I might not have been able to say to him that I knew what he’d been trying to give me, but I would bet you anything he saw it in my face.

“Thank you,” I said before he shut the car door.

Metta for Reed, still back in hometown USA.  May gestures of kindness and love follow him everywhere.  I was a very lonely girl.  And he loved me.

Partner Lesson #7: Creating a Monster


My partner HATES pretentiousness of any kind.  Therefore she often hates the world of theatre, where people are always remembering that the next gig might come from whoever is right in front of them, and are therefore to-your-face nice most of the time.

My partner is also not terribly ambitious.  She loves a daily life, and a sense of meaning, and the idea of making a difference, but she has never dreamed of being rich and famous.

But then, this spring, she had an acting role for the first time.  In Saint John the Divine in Iowa.  We couldn’t find someone 40+ who was truly butch and could play the comedy and the heart of the scene, and when she read it with me she did really well (surprisingly, since mostly she sits there and reads everything in a monotone trying to get me to let her off the hook (she doesn’t enjoy being the line-learning helper)).  So she ended up in the play.  Shaking, on opening night, with the cast being sweet to her and teaching her how to handle the nerves we all get.  And then she got her first laugh.  And her second.  Then she got her own private round of applause at the end of her scene (which began to happen regularly).  Then she figured out how to make the scene better, how to keep it alive.  In other words, she sort of became an actor.

Then she’s all like, “It was fun, and I liked the laughs, but I wouldn’t do it again.  I didn’t get hooked or anything.”

Then she’s like, “But I was good, right?”

In other words, she sort of became an actor.

Then, this weekend, we’re driving home from our weekly date night, and she tells me she wanted to go down to the Sandra Bullock set and just walk around because she had a fantasy that they’d like her look and offer her a part, and then she’d talk them into giving me a part and we’d both be in a Sandra Bullock movie.

I was like, “OH MY GOD!  YOU ARE SUCH AN ACTOR!  I AM GOING TO DIE!”

So, lesson #7 is that no one is immune to fantasies of Hollywood.  Not even my neurotic love of a partner.  This is so disappointing, on one hand, since her hatred of pretentiousness is really kind of great.  On the other hand, it does give me endless get-out-of-jail free cards when I start obsessing about myself and my performances.

Do not doubt I will use all of them, even if they are endless.  I will be dead and still using my get-out-of-jail-free cards.  Watch me!

**The end of 7 blogs of partner lessons.  My partner had a topic she wanted to suggest, but I told her to go get her own blog.  But since I’m about to start a theatre gig, and will be heavily unavailable, I may give her a guest appearance on this one.  No doubt this will also lead to unforeseen consequences.  I’m starting to have 2nd thoughts.  Right now.

Partner Lesson #6: Idiosyncrasy and Neurosis RULE!


So, let us begin with a little background.  Enter one Lyralen Kaye, raised upper middle class in the suburbs of one city or another, mother a housewife for the first 14 years of Lyralen’s then young life, father an outgoing, charismatic salesman who sang in the church singing group, arranged neighborhood barbeques (or, more likely, suggested them and got other people to do the work).  Lyralen’s mother had been the homecoming queen at her college.  Lyralen’s father, the president of his class and halfback on the football team at Notre Dame.  Lyralen’s mother dressed her children in red, white and blue.  The girls (eventually there were 4) wore not only patriotic colors, but matching outfits, though none of them were twins.  A leitmotif derived from the Brady Bunch, one might surmise.  A keeping up with the Joneses, a commercial for Lux detergent, a smile-for-the-camera-we-are- Americana-at-its-best.

In other words, like many upper middle class families, the family looked perfect.  It was all about image.

Let me be perfectly clear.  It was about image, image, image, image, image, image, IMAGE!

Now, dropping the antiquated usage I can honestly say that those people DROVE ME CRAZY.  I know, I know, everyone drives me crazy, but they were the first.  I mean, this metaphysical bent I have?  I didn’t learn it.  I was born with it.  I came out of the womb consumed with a desire to talk philosophy and meaning.  I believe my first word was, “Nietzsche.”

So here I am, 7 years or so past birth, watching these adults, (all members of the Catholic church) cocktails in hand, laughing, the women in pumps, the men with loosened ties, the appetizers–the cheese balls, the cantaloupe balls–that I sometimes passed around.  A woman leans closer to my father, laughs up into his face.  My mother’s tight smile in a group of women who chatter around her while she says nothing.  The way she changes when she turns to the men, the ease in the muscles of her face under skin that is peaches and cream.  Her blue eyes, frosted blonde hair.  And afterward, as she takes apart the character of each woman, the way my father drinks the 4th drink too many.  I’m watching this and I’m thinking, I will die before I have a life like this!

Of course, no matter how much I resisted, I also internalized some of those values, mostly in the category of looks.  My first two girlfriends were femme and gorgeous.  They both had eating disorders, but, you know, who doesn’t if they look like that?  It costs to be a Jody Foster look-a-like (that was my first girlfriend, who I not-so-affectionately refer to as the train wreck….or at least I have, but now I must say metta for her and be all Buddhist).

Enter one Lyralen’s-Partner-To-Be, circa 1987.  Rocking and blinking when overwhelmed by social situations.  Her face revealing every passing emotion, including and especially anxiety.  Who loves her white Fiat so passionately she keeps trying to fix it herself, climbing under the car in a man’s winter hat, climbing back out covered with grease…and beaming all over her face with pride.  Who gets so anxious about the first fight that she goes and sleeps in her car.  Who sings atonally in the shower, plays her guitar and sings loudly (also atonally), who claims the laundry room as her special space (it’s the size of a large closet) and moves in there when intimacy gets too much for her, piling in the guitar, some big books and a nest of pillows and blankets.  Who wears boy’s cords and old t-shirts, who literally puffs out her chest with pride when she links her arm with mine at parties.  Who holds my hand on the streets.  Who goes and buys poetry books by Adrienne Rich just because I mention I like her work.

*                                         *                                       *

It is, in fact, 1987.  A quick learner, I sit next to my partner on the single bed mattress and box spring we use as a couch, watching her wipe her greasy hands (from the Fiat) on her jeans, hoping she doesn’t get any on the carpet.  I listen to her talk about how she got the starter in, but it kind of hangs down away from the rest of the engine, held in place by 2 wires and maybe she should take the car to a mechanic if she can’t get it up and staying up.  And I realize, for the first time, how much easier it is to love someone so radically and emphatically herself, so imperfect, so openly anxious…than it is to love the physically beautiful trying to live up to an image in her own head.  My partner teaches me, in that one moment, what it  means to be real.

Of course, over the ensuing 25 years, the lessons in individuality and permission continue, though she did stop rocking and blinking, grew more confident and slightly less anxious, became an IT geek (so socially acceptable in the world defined by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates). But privately, in our home, she walks around in men’s underwear and t-shirts from the 80’s (because it’s summer), her hair standing on end, lifting up her glasses to squint down at Siri.  She still spills food on every shirt she owns (all 30 of them, the same style in different colors), still asks me how to get grease out, still repeats the last three words of any conversation in a mutter as she walks away, thinking about who knows what.

I mean, look at the material!  I can write comedy about us forever!

And I can look at her, her slightly turned out feet, her unbrushed hair, the 40 books piled next to her bed (she’s read 10 pages of each of them), and feel my chest straining to get big enough to hold my heart.

I recognize that my partner is neurotic and idiosyncratic, while I fall more into the category of completely whacked.  It makes for an entertaining 24 hours.  One after another.  For 25 years.

Partner Lesson #5: Body Comfort


My partner has these little hands.  She touches everything–clothes, bedspreads, sheets, my hair, my face, my feet, food, walls, plants.  She learns the world through her fingertips and palms, exclaiming over anything soft–worn cotton, fleece.  She’ll burrow into it, wrap herself in it, in winter so only the top of the fleece cap she wears around the house is visible.

My partner loves to be comfortable.  And she has this strange sense of comfort with her body–its smells, its needs, the way it moves. (Mind you, she also kvetches constantly now about hot flashes, aches, pains, physical changes…but kvetching is part of the package with her…I have signed on for the kvetching, though I still secretly roll my eyes when she’s not looking).

Anyhow, remember, my mother is German.  As her daughter, obsessive hygiene and grooming are my legacy.  Back in 1987, my partner would come home from her restaurant job and throw her cords in a pile in the bedroom.  The next day she’s put them back on and go to work again. I can’t tell you how this horrified me.  I mean, you sweat at restaurant jobs.  How could she stand to even touch those pants?  The way I grew up, they’d probably have to be washed three or four times before they’d be allowed out of the basement.

But here we are, 25 years later, and while she no longer throws pants in the corner of the room, she does use health food deodorant.  You know, the stuff that doesn’t work?  And the funny thing is, I like her smell.

WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?!  I’M BEING CORRUPTED INTO BODY COMFORT!  IT’S ANTI-AMERICAN!  CALL HOMELAND SECURITY!

After 25 years with my partner, I occasionally skip washing my hair for a day.  And I stay in my pajamas when I’m home working on my computer.

It is anti-American.  To have bodily smells, to not be perfectly hygiened, to burrow down into a blanket, to touch and enjoy touching everything, to like the body, the animal life of it…well, it’s probably a good thing I’ve been corrupted.

Though I still bring a toothbrush to restaurants to brush after I eat.  And I do use regular deodorant.   One must draw the line somewhere.  Otherwise the world will come to an end.  I mean, my pits just can’t stink that much.  It is absolutely not allowed.

Partner Lesson #4: Butch People Primp, Too!


This one is short and sweet:  everyone is vain!  Someone (no names mentioned) might spend more time getting dressed and examining herself in the mirror than I do.

My gender queer partner constantly busts stereotypes for me, mostly by being quirky, neurotic and unexpected.  I kind of enjoy this, at least in the abstract.  When we’re 20 minutes late (again!) because she can’t decide what to wear, well, I grow impatient and even angry, rather than taking the time to remember how I enjoy her neuroses.

Here’s the thing:  my partner worries constantly about getting the right haircut (in spite of the fact that she’s had basically the same haircut for almost all of the 29 years that I’ve known her).  She tries on the same t-shirt in four different colors before making up her mind.  She asks me to help her decide between this boy hiking boot and that boy sandal.  This brown shoe and that brown shoe–which looks better with the khakis?  Should she wear the gray khakis or the beige khakis (same exact style, bought at exactly the same time).

Now, sometimes the gender expression actually causes the problem.  What she’s really deciding is if this pair of pants will express the right mix of boy/girl, or if it will tip her too far toward girl and she’ll feel awkward in her skin all night.  But beyond the more serious facts of body image, gender, social acceptance, self-expression is the simple fact that I, the femme, think about dressing, primping and looks about 75% less than my butch partner.

Now, I’m not an normal femme (or a normal anything).  I make a decision, and then I put myself together either with enjoyment (usually, “Ha-ha, let’s f#$% with everyone’s idea of fashion), or enjoyment (“I am hot!  Even at this age!”), or a sense of chore, (“Guess I better wear makeup, since it’s all theatre/film people).  For most of my life I never did my hair (it fell to my waist and a ponytail or braid took the least time), never wore makeup, and even wore a kind of uniform (jeans, pretty shirt, fleece or leather jacket).  I think it might be hard to find a femme who spent as little time on her appearance as I did (and still do, though now it’s more since I’m an actress).  I had a teacher in grad school who confronted me.  She thought since makeup and clothes make me significantly more attractive, I should do myself up all the time.  (I did not say, “When hell freezes over,” but I thought it.)

So, the lesson–gender is not a determining factor in how long it takes someone to get ready to go out.  It’s not a determining factor in vanity.  As the title says…Butch people primp, too.  My partner, the tech geek, the khakied, blue-jeaned, t-shirted, hiking booted phenomenon, is a big-time primper.

Also, she’s usually late because of it.  Now that I’m a quasi-Buddhist, I may sit on the floor of her bedroom, being present with what is as she throws similar clothes all over the furniture, trying to decide what to wear to the party, the dance, the dinner with friends.

“How do I look?” she’ll ask.

“Primped,” I’ll answer.  And then I’ll run for the hills.

Partner Lesson #3: What Do the Simple Folk Do?


Okay, that title sounds BAD.

But the point is, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a little esoteric, metaphysical, intellectual and generally out there.  With attitude and swearing, but still.  Give me an idea and I can keep myself busy thinking about it for a month or so.

In the meantime, my partner goes to her garden.  She paints the windowsills.  She sits out on the back porch.

“You want to sit out here and eat?” she asks me.  “It’s really nice.”

“There’s nothing in life like a cool breeze,” she says as she gets out of the car and takes a moment to stand in the middle of our street, in the dark, with the mosquitoes and moths buzzing around the light in front of our house.  “Feel that.”  Then she tips her head back and sighs.  “I love a breeze in summer.”

She also loves a breeze in spring and fall.

I look at her.  “I know you do,” I say.  “Please get out of the street so you won’t be hit by a car.”

“No, feel that,” she says.

So I stop.  And inevitably, a breeze touches my skin, moves through my clothes, ruffles my hair.  Making me suddenly and immediately tactile, appreciating this body, this moment, this night.

“Fine, it is nice,” I say with my usual grace.  “It’s also nice over here on the sidewalk where the cars won’t kill you.”

Realistically, we live on a pretty small street, and the cars don’t pass that often.  I’m just resisting being in the moment before I let go, before I admit that I married her for just this, to remind me that the simplest things can wake you up, make you stop, take notice, say this is life.  Not only the theatre and the meditation hall, not only the stretch of the body in yoga, not only the grand vista from a mountain or on the lip of a canyon.  The passing of a breeze in Roxbury, MA, with sirens from the hospitals still audible, with the oil stain on the street, with the friendly skunk ambling, no doubt, in the alley next to our house.

Last Saturday she convinced me to come for another tour of her plot in the community garden.  I mean, I don’t even know how to respond to her enthusiasm.  It’s very cute.

“Look at the baby zucchini,” she says, practically jumping up and down.  “It just appeared yesterday!”  (The baby zucchini is one inch long.)  And here are some flowers on the eggplant and I think each flower will be an eggplant.  And the basil is ready, but I don’t know how to trim anything because I don’t know what I’m doing.”  Then she looks up at me like a three year old.

I should say that I’m offered tours of the garden a few times a week.  I helped pick the basil and lettuce; I made pesto.   I’m just in awe of how happy she gets about something that isn’t a story she’s making up in her head planning to get other people to come and watch it.

When we lived in an apartment complex she grew a green pepper plant on our balcony.  I think it produced one pepper, which we cut open and ate with great reverence.

In the Camelot song from which the title of this blog is taken, the simple folk dance a fiery dance.  In Roxbury, they grow vegetables and flowers, fix things around the house, and stand in a breeze, really noticing a tactile, physical moment in their lives.

Basically, my partner has it right.  Me, of the metaphysically-obsessed variety, may write books or blogs about being in the moment.  She actually lives there.  Constantly trying to get me to visit. Childlikeness, in the true sense of the spiritual.  Beginner’s mind.  As I make these concepts, she walks down the hallway to the kitchen to make breakfast.  I will go join her, and she will no doubt tell me to taste something, and I will try to pay attention to taste, to the feel of her arms around me as she says good-bye for the day, to the pound of her footsteps outside the window.

I will do what the truly openhearted do.  I will live the moment I’m in, following the instructions of my teacher, my partner, my irritating, lovable, garden-obsessed breeze person.

Then I’ll write another blog or two, because I am still me, and this is still fun.

Partner Lesson #2: Ebb & Flow


Even before we both got interested in Buddhism–I mean, really, really interested–my partner embodied certain qualities of zen.  I mean, she has a little belly, and she remains calm when certain unnamed people have little drama fits.

And when a certain unnamed spouse gets all frustrated and dramatic, and is like, “I’m so over this.  I’m moving back to Spain.  There must be some local festival I can go be ridiculous in and have it blamed on the fact that I’m a foreigner.  I won’t run with the bulls again, but still.”

“Ebb and flow, honey,” she says.  “It’s okay.  I know you don’t remember, but we do usually make-up after we fight.”

This is on her better days, but you get the gist.  My solutions to problems in my late teens and twenties numbered exactly one.  Move.  To another country.  As soon as possible.  I have only slightly gotten over this tendency.

My partner, obviously, believes more in waiting it out.

It’s kind of like she’s my mantra, when I can’t be it for myself.  Of course, if you want to see real panic, watch me when she has a drama fit.  OMG!  I panic just thinking about it.  I try to choke out the ebb and flow words, but mostly I’m like, “Turn off the drama and give me back my Buddha!”

My partner’s parents have been together over 40 years.  She lived in the same house from age 2-18.  She always says that she was friends with a girl in 1-5 grades, then didn’t hang out with her, then became friends again in 11th grade.  She believes in cycles, she believes that things return, she believes that if you do nothing things might just work out on their own.

I went to 4 different grade schools and my parents changed houses even more frequently.  My favorite move occurred in the 80’s, when my mother kicked my father out and eventually bought a condo.  He immediately bought a condo, too–one identical to hers and only one block away, in the same development.  He used to jog by my mother’s house in his hunting vest (no shirt, and he weighed 225) just as my little sisters were leaving the house to catch the bus.  They huddled together at one door or another, behind the wooden geese my mother liked to collect, one dark head, one blonde, waiting in their Catholic school uniforms for him to finish that particular cycle around the block so they could run out the door and miss being seen with him.

That’s the kind of cycle I relate to–avoiding the man in the orange hunting vest and grayish tie-dyed sweats (from washing unlike colors together) in his turns around the block.

Sometimes, now, after 25 years, I can guess when my partner might pull out her trump card, but she still beats me to it.  “This is one of those times, isn’t it?” I ask her.

“Ebb and flow,” she says.  “Calm down.”

“I hear Spain is nice this time of year Ms. Buddha,” I usually answer.

“Fine,” she says.  “I’ll come with you.”

I have begun to believe that you can’t avoid ebb and flow, no matter what you do.

And perhaps avoiding it isn’t quite the thing to do.  I mean, think of all the love you’d miss along the way.  Spain really can’t compete.

(But it does come close.  Temporarily.  Especially in the Spring.)

Avoidance 101


I plan to generously pass on Lessons Learned from My Partner in the next 7 blogs.  I got angry at her today, and for some reason that makes me want to remind myself of the things she has taught me in the last twenty-five years.  I’m sure I could fill many more than 7 blogs, but I’m not sure she could stand it (she’s become addicted to reading this thing!).

So.  Lesson 1:  The Healthy Uses of Avoidance as a Relationship Strategy

First, one must understand that I’ve learned most of what I know about how to behave from books.  Or, to put it bluntly, I decided at about, oh, age 6 that my parents were completely clueless (and that they thought I was an alien from outer space and had no idea what to do with me), so I looked for other resources.  I read books on how to communicate (“I” statements, be honest and direct), books on how to be assertive (“no” means “no”), books on how to deal with children, how to have better sex–I mean, I have a reading disorder.  I read unbelievably fast and remember almost everything I read.  I read a couple books a week at minimum.  I get that this makes me strange and a bit of a freak.

Anyhow, all the early reading meant that I created my own rulebook on how to behave, communicate, be assertive, etc (the sex part I extemporized on…a lot, but we won’t get into that).  And, as I have mentioned ad infinitum, I have a certain penchant for drama and never doing anything halfway.  I mean, if I’m going to be direct, I’m going to be DIRECT.

I will say this–being DIRECT creates a lot of drama in your relationships.  Like, you’re getting to know someone, and you notice that she is a monologuer.  Meaning, she says, “Hi, can you talk?”  You say, “Yes.”  She then talks for 44 minutes without taking a breath.  (If you’re me, you’re holding the phone away from your ear, swearing at it, making faces at it, dancing around and generally being extremely mature.)

Now, my rulebook says to be direct, so I call this person up a couple days later (this all happened about 20 years ago) and say, “Did you know you talked for 44 minutes in our last phone call without even asking me how I was?”  And she says, “YOU WERE TIMING ME???!~!!!!!!”

This was when my partner decided to do an intervention on me.  She sat me down and said, “You need to learn that if you don’t want to be friends with someone, JUST DON’T PICK UP THE PHONE!”

I was like, “You can do that?”

My partner then tore all her hair out at once.  It grew back, though.

“YES!!!!” she said (after the hair had been cleaned up and she’d stopped swearing).

“You don’t have to tell people everything you think?”

“You’re completely hopeless,” she told me.

Later, she came back and explained that if you want to be friends with someone, but not as close as they want to be to you, you wait before calling them back.  Or you do only group outings.  There are, it turns out, about a million ways to keep people at a distance without telling them that you’re timing their phone calls.

Who knew?

Besides my partner, I mean.

And so I came to study Avoidance 101.  I thought psychological health grew out of direct communication, but it turns out that mostly drama grows out of anything the least confrontational.  AND, my partner tells me, if you tell someone what bothers you about them, that’s actually pretty intimate, so if you don’t want to be close to them, it’s better not to say it.

Wow.

Of course, if you do want to be close to someone, direct communication of the skillful variety is a good idea.  My partner has to study that with me, though, because guess what?  Being direct isn’t always her strong suit.

Anyhow, here I am, making a pitch for The Healthy Uses of Avoidance.

Some of us just need things spelled out.

All the time.

And while I am a student of avoidance, I personally prefer to say what I think with no punches pulled, and to hear things that way as well.  As long as it’s gentle, kind, and basically complimentary.  Of course.