YoaHTs: “Thing” 72 – “Sex Pt. 1”

Sex is, above all, entertainment. Yes, it perpetuates a species. Yes, it can be an expression of affection and intimacy, an addiction, a tool, and a weapon. But the bottom line is, after all the fireworks, in a healthy sexual relationship, you’re supposed to feel really, really, ridiculously good.

For reasons I cannot explain, I have discussed sex lately with an amazing variety of people, in entirely unrelated circumstances and from every perspective I could have imagined. I have no professional training in psychology, or sex therapy, but I have no issues discussing sex and, for reasons I’ve stated below, I’m fairly knowledgeable about it, so people tend to feel comfortable talking to me about it. The one thing that stood out – and yes, I am keenly aware of the comedy in that phrase – was that people STILL just don’t know how to talk about it to one another. One would think that such a simple problem is easily solved, but with everyone boiling in their own tea kettle, it’s a problem that seems to require an interpreter in nearly every case. As I listened intently in every conversation, I began to see patterns.*

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Year of a Hundred Things – Thing #73 – “Need”

I saw a meme on Facebook today – a lot of my posts seem to be born of that lately – that said “Any women wanting a husband obviously hasn’t had one before.” There are just so many things wrong with that that I felt compelled to really analyze it through the sieve of my personal history, and the experiences of my friends and family.

A couple of years ago, I sat in Central Park and had a conversation with a friend about why we thought political debates were essentially useless, especially within the confines of social media. We agreed readily that the problem was psychology. When one considers a problem, and its solution, one has to first understand the psychology of the affected individuals. One has to understand their “need.” The same logic has to be applied to relationships, and most especially to marriages.

Even the best marriages require work. Both people have to show up every day, and for extended periods, have to put their own need aside. Balance is what makes that process work. Recognition is what gives balance. “Today, I recognize that your need is stronger than mine, so I will show up for you.” Seems rather simple, doesn’t it?

In my analysis, I categorized both the failed and the successful relationships. Over and over, I found that need was the strongest theme and in those that failed, need had become a monstrous, all-consuming organism that stood in the middle of the relationship. It seems obvious to me, and maybe to you, my reader, that a balance of needs is the answer to this conundrum. I thought so, too. 

But it starts long before need becomes a problem that has gone unsatisfied. We humans don’t seem to realize that relationships have seasons, and some relationships can only last for a single season because it was a product of a single need. This is why, I believe, many marriages fail after the children have left the nest. I’ve heard people say “we’ve grown apart” when what actually happened was that while raising their children, they were not fulfilling their individual needs. They let the season pass. 

However, even before that, we fail to recognize the need that fanned the fire of that relationship. I’ve seen many a teenage girl tolerate deplorable behavior from a boy because for the first time in her life, she felt seen and heard. The need is to feel attractive and desired, and biologically, boys are happy to accommodate. I’ve also seen teenage boys tolerate the most entitled, spoiled girls for exactly the same reasons. The needs in those relationships overwhelm the individual’s own power. Those relationships are doomed long before the “I do”s. 

I have determined to teach every young person I love (and maybe those reading this), that successful relationships – and this applies to friendships, too – are based on the individuals’ abilities to recognize their own needs first. It is vital, as well, that we recognize which needs are unreasonable and invest the time in healing those first. THEN we can determine who is the best possible mate for us. It’s cliche to say that two half people can’t sustain a relationship, but it’s true. 

It is not the husband that is the problem. It is picking the wrong husband (or wife, or partner) because he or she fulfills a current need instead of creating a balance of all of them. Figuring this out for oneself requires some profoundly emotional heavy-lifting and some people just don’t want to invest the time. Those people won’t make good mates. People who cannot at least recognize their own needs will never be able to create balance in a relationship. 

So, before you go criticizing the institution of marriage – or simply relationships – look inside yourself and determine if the fault lies in your ability to choose at the time. It took me a long time to discern that I what I was looking for in my previous relationships was far from what I actually needed. I let them proceed past their seasons. It even took me a while to determine what makes the current one work. Keeping my hands on the wheel is now much easier having drawn a map of seas. 

The bottom line is, we have to figure ourselves out first. Then we have to really communicate our needs AND lastly, when those needs are not being met, be honest about whether it is fair to require THAT person in front of you to continue to try. Outside of abuse, we have to ask ourselves; Did you pick the wrong person? Is that person really capable of meeting YOUR individual needs? Is that his or her fault? Does it make him or her a “bad” mate simply because he or she is a bad mate for YOU? Yes, it’s a lot of soul-searching, but in the end, when you wake up every day relatively happy (because there are always bumps), it’s entirely worth the effort. 

Year of a Hundred Things: “Thing #74 – Gypsy Heart

“You’re a gypsy. You know that?” He said.

“Yep. But you love me that way.” I am confident in that. It’s not as though he has a choice, really. 

I can’t be without something to do, so I carry with me, at all times, at least three things to do. I am never without a book, my pencils and sketchbook, and some kind of camera. There are times when I wished my OCD expressed itself in my household, in keeping everything in its place. But alas, it does not. 

I can laugh at myself, hauling a good 10lbs in art supplies and books in my backpack. Occasionally, I look like a hermit crab adapting every spot I visit into my own little creative space.  It makes my gypsy heart happy.

3x5s

“Didn’t have a camera by my side this time,
Hopin’ I would see the world through both my eyes,
Maybe I will tell you all about it
When I’m in the mood to lose my way with words.”
(John Mayer)

I’ll have to beg your forgiveness for beginning this piece with song lyrics, but it is among my favorites songs, and every time I hear it, it takes me down the same path.

A few years ago, I officially retired from IT and decided that I’d pursue photography as a profession rather than the hobby it had been. While I have enjoyed the work most of the time, I now find myself having learned an unexpected lesson. The business of photography sucked the joy out of the art of photography, for me. I wanted to capture a story in every frame. That is not what happened. It became rote. It made me very depressed. Most inquiries wanted cheap, quick, painless and Photoshop. I wanted to create. More and more of my friends are leaving the “business,” as well, for the same reason. In an effort to love the art again, I cut jobs down to only a few a month. It has been a relief.

I have had several heart-to-hearts about this with a friend. He is my creative conscience, and he gives my fears no quarter. Stop taking your gear, he said. Just use your phone. See things. And this weekend, on a trip to Minnesota, I did as he said. The process was, at first, frustrating as hell. I know my gear, intimately. I know the buttons and dials. I can control depth of field, and ambient light, and compression. With my phone, I could only control composition and focal point. It was a bit like someone had cut off my hand. I forged on, nonetheless. And I did, in fact, see small things I might have missed. As usual, my friend was right about what it takes to get out of my head space.

All of these images were shot using my iPhone. It is proof of two things: (1) seeing requires your eyes first, (2) the camera is only the tool.

I’m slowly getting my mojo back, and for that I have to thank my friend. I don’t enjoy looking inward, because that’s where the heavy lifting is. But I’ll do it every time for the payoff. It’s priceless.

More on these images individually, in later posts. Some warrant their own.

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The Kraken

I lost my mind, yesterday. I admit it. I could feel it happening, too, and I was nearly powerless to stop it. My voice grew louder. My face twisted into ugly rage.

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Pinus Contora 

Ouch, I thought, a splinter?  As my hands caressed the weather-worn, greying plank, turning it, examining it for weaknesses that might eventually compromise the finished piece, a tiny prick made me drop it as though it had opened a vein.

It was, after all, a good excuse to walk away.

I had sat down expressly to transform it. I had had some idea of what I wanted, but no inspiration. I saw red: not in the angry, metaphorical way, but the color red filling my imagination, bursting, a clouded Holi festival in every shade from rose to sanguis. It is in that space where all the joy and wonder of a creative moment, all of the air that fills my lungs spreads to my waiting hands, only to explode from my chest in a rush of despair.

“Why” begins to interrupt. Do I have a voice? Is it worthwhile? Who will want to see this? 

The answer is an apparition.

It is often said of artists that narcissism is the first requirement. Thumbing through even the thinnest of art history books, one finds edgy, erratic, often abstruse behavior among the great masters. Art, it seems, requires a dance on the tightwire that hangs between sanity and genius.

Having grown up in a household where art had no value, I now find myself opening every creative vein I can just to find the one that flows freely. So far, none have. I push, every day, learning the tools and techniques. With each new medium I touch, with each surface I alter, I understand better and better the act of love that art truly is. Even as I write these words, I am utterly gripped by creating a melody within them that will compel you to keep reading. These are experiences I did not have at a time when painting a pig blue or a tree purple was the process in which one idea might fluidly transform into another. Occasionally, I color outside the lines, and I don’t feel the need to correct it and then, as I let go, more and more, I begin to love what I am touching and changing. It comes down to that one nebulous moment when I give myself permission to do whatever I want without needing a reason why. It is the moment when the wildfire clears the way for the new seeds.

To the many whom I’ve heard say, “I have no talent for art,” I say, expressing yourself doesn’t require “talent” in the traditional sense. It requires that you somehow package what you feel in a way that makes you happy. A year ago, I said I couldn’t draw, but I’ve changed that. I’m learning about the many mediums and tools. I’m immersing myself, and therein lies the danger.

Just as when I began to write publicly, I now study, rather than just view art. I find myself hyperfocused, deconstructing method, material, meaning. I become so lost in the detail, that I must navigate both the joy of understanding and the defeat of accepting that I will never create something so exquisite that it moves mankind century after century. And that is the moment I burn.

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who is a successful artist. He spoke candidly about having an artist’s statement and an idea of the theme in his work. I realized that, fundamentally, art is a commitment to visually communicate something for which the artist has no words. Ultimately, I am compelled by an unusual tendency to assign color to emotions. I reach my roots into that fleeting moment, and that is when I grow.

Over and over, I’ll burn when I despair over how much time was lost to fear, but in between, in fleeting moments, new roots grip the ground as from my hands, something lovely comes.

 

Year of a Hundred Things – “Thing” #75 – Language

A few years ago, my family took a trip to Cozumel for a birthday celebration. Having grown up in a Spanish-speaking family, I thought it would be rather easy to communicate while in Mexico, but in the end, having had for years no one with whom to practice the bastardized Tampa Spanglish I learned, my Spanish is now spotty, at best. So, in trying to communicate in Spanish, I frequently made a mess of the truly beautiful language it is, and comically put myself in some precarious situations.

For example, I responded “¡Soy caliente!” to a lovely, “¿Como está, Señorita?” from the towel-attendant at the beach. He chuckled. “Sí, hay mucho calor, hoy,” he responded. Now, if you know any Spanish, you understand that we were discussing the weather. But it took me a moment to realize that he chuckled at my phrasing. I asked, knowing how badly I butcher Spanish these days, what I could do to be more exact. He said, in perfect English, “You meant to say ‘It is hot,’ but you said, ‘I am hot’ as though complimenting yourself on your attractiveness. While you are lovely,” – yes, he said that – “I think you meant to say you feel hot from the weather.” We laughed, heartily, and I thanked him for his kind lesson on Spanish. He didn’t make me feel small, or insulted. I took the opportunity to better learn how to communicate with the citizens whose hospitality I enjoyed for four days.

Why? Because it was the right thing to do.

I have worked in other countries, short term. On those rare, wonderful occasions, I had not the time to learn to communicate well in their native language, which I regretted for two reasons. (1) I do not expect that they should have to learn my language to accommodate me on their soil, and (2) learning many languages expands our understanding of the nuances of communication.

Now, having expressed how I feel about this, imagine how appalled I was to read that a journalist in the UK has decided that correcting grammar is both racist and a sign of “white privilege” because it inhibits the ability for “the poor” to communicate. I’m curious, because I grew up poor and bilingual, why she thinks that only the English correct grammar. My Abuela corrected my Spanish, constantly. My mother is a voracious reader. Her father, the eldest son of Sicilian immigrants, read constantly in English, Spanish and Italian. He spoke all three languages beautifully and correctly. These were my role models.

I’m a grammarphile but not because of some lofty sense of privilege. It’s because I believe in clarity, and in the power of meaning. And in a small way, I love the mechanics of the kind of sentence structure that evokes a visceral response from my reader. A good sentence is sexy.

Sunday, I had just read the article written by the aforementioned journalist, and I happened across the only five minutes of Game of Thrones that I had the opportunity to watch as I went about cleaning the kitchen. In the scene, Tyrion Lannister attempts to give charity to a woman so that she can feed her baby, but in Valerian he says “for your baby,” from which she inferred that he wanted to buy her baby. A simple error in phrasing and the meaning was entirely changed from charity to cannibalism. Note that I did not say “that I could watch” instead of “had the opportunity to watch.” Considering the regular violence on Game of Thrones, there are many scenes for which the first phrase would apply, but that is not what I MEANT in this case.

The fact is, if you don’t apply grammatical rules in ANY language, your meaning can be misinterpreted to such an extent that you could possibly insult the person to whom you speak. In fact, it happens often. I’ve seen discussions in social media decompose into vicious attacks because of misinterpretations that could easily have been solved by simple punctuation. The number of times I’ve read “that’s not what I meant” simply confounds me. The thing is, English has a lexicon of 450,000+ words. It’s not an easy language to learn. But if you genuinely want to be heard, and UNDERSTOOD, you have to accept that using proper grammar will help you achieve that end. In contrast, if you want to be genuinely innovative with meaning, you have to know the rules you are creatively breaking.

I think it’s deplorable when one attacks another publicly for improper usage, even if in response to something combative. It furthers the idea that privilege, or arrogance, is always the motive. I have been tempted, especially when I’ve read responses that have devolved into personal attacks. But even in opposition, meaning must be clear, or your argument is lost the moment your reader trips over the first missing comma.

Finally, if you do want to work on grammar and meaning, and better learn how to express yourself, I highly recommend a book called “Sin and Syntax” by Constance Hale. She takes an “out of the box” approach to illustrating how subtle changes can lead to much better communication. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing or saying, but it matters greatly whether you are understood.