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.

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.

YofaHT: “Thing” #76 – A Good Product

I believe it was Homer Simpson who said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” All kidding aside, and in complete deference to Plato, no adage more aptly explains the appearance of the world’s most inspiring conveniences. Convenience is an amazing thing. It immediately creates an adoption, then a reliance, then a complete dependence in the organism it benefits. I thought about convenience when I stumbled – okay, okay, honesty – when I was presented through a Facebook ad a new concept device called Kano.

I have many years experience in the informations systems business and was hardly surprised when my offspring showed an aptitude for technology and talent for the logic skills that will eventually make him as formidable a diagnostician as is his mother. (Alright, alright, I admit, I’m a bit biased.)

Now, while I’ll gladly toot my own horn at my ability to creatively unravel complex problems, I will admit with equal humility that I lack patience as a systems teacher. Anyone who has suffered that impatience (and you know who you are) will gladly throw me under the AS400. So, as I watched my child deftly manipulating Minecraft after assimilating new techniques by watching YouTube (StampyLongHead, I’m watching you), I realized he was going to come to a place soon where he’d either learn bad computing habits (read: fat, sloppy code) or he’d learn it the right way from me.

Enter Kano.

Before I write about the actual product, I want to mention why I’m writing about the actual product. Making good stuff for kids is a lost art. The volume of things that break, or don’t work as promised, could fill a good-sized airplane hangar. So, when I stumble across something that works well, I’m inclined to reward the manufacturers. I prefer to encourage good business, rather than denigrate bad ones (although, I’m frequently tempted).

Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog…

Enter Kano (again)…

It’s a cute little thing, built on the Raspberry Pi platform. As I read the web site (read more here), I quickly realized that I had a convenient solution to my teaching problem. The hip peeps at Kano had developed a tool that would help me visually teach my kid operating system commands and code logic, all while he would swear he was playing computer games. It’s his “size” and “feel.” It comes with clear, concise and visually stimulating instructions. I ordered it immediately as his big Christmas present.

At first he didn’t know what to make of the parts, but once I explained what it would allow him to do, he dug in with both hands. As my husband and I watched, he put the whole thing together, and powered it up, with very little intervention from me. A tear of pride bobbled in my eye for a moment as I realized the apple was still hanging around the roots.

My husband had a completely opposite but interesting reaction. He has little experience with technology, and noted that because our child is more likely to design a baseball video game than to actually play baseball, a good father-son relationship might require that dad learn along side mommy’s little prodigy.

In our household, this cool little device serves two important purposes. It gives me the tool to teach him the tools he’ll need in his future endeavors, and it provides an avenue for dad to relate to interests foreign to his own, but deeply rooted in his son. Granted, that’s much more than convenience. In fact, it’s a gold mine. If you have a kid who has an aptitude for technology, I highly recommend that you look at this product, especially if you yourself do not have that aptitude.

Now, 75 more “things” to go…better get back on that writing horse, eh?

Year of a Hundred Things – “Thing” #77 – Abuela

  I have no memory of how I perceived loss before the year my Abuela died, but I clearly, concretely remember how I felt, sitting at the end of the kitchen counter in her kitchen, lonely in a room filled with people. The yellow formica stretched out before my gaze as though it were infinite.  I was transfixed by the mottled 70s pattern. It was consistent and predictable, the antithesis of the disconnected spectrum of emotions that wracked my small body. I was ten years old and my everyday was gone.

My Abuela “Annie,” as she was known, was the constant in my life. Before my father was hurt in a car accident, I spent every morning before school in my Abuela’s kitchen, drinking café con leche and eating the best Cuban bread in the universe, from the bakery at which my Abuelo worked. (That’s not hyperbole. It has actually been voted the best many times over the years.) I watched her struggle from place to place because four strokes had taken her entire left side from her. She was determined, and strong, and had adapted. I wish I had understood at ten what an extraordinary achievement that was. You see, I didn’t know it at the time, but she had been left-handed.

Since that day, forty years ago, I have learned a great deal more about her than I could possibly have perceived at ten. But I knew one very important thing, even then, clinging to that counter and sobbing. My life was about to change drastically, and not having her as an anchor was going to make that much harder.

I found myself standing in my kitchen this afternoon, making yuca and mojo, and for a moment, my Abuela returned to my consciousness. I saw her there, standing at the stove, left arm contracted severely, right arm stirring the spanish bean soup I wish I’d learned to make.

“Abuela,” I had said one afternoon, “why did mommy and daddy go to your ami?”

She chuckled, and flashed her perfect smile at me. “Niña, it’s not ‘your ami,’ it’s Miiii ami.”

“Okay, but why did they go to yoooouuuurrrr ami?” I remember clearly that I’d stretched it out, thinking that she hadn’t understood me.

“Aye, niña, it’s a city, named ‘Miami.’ It’s not ‘my’ ami. And they’re visiting friends.”

“Ohhhhhhhhh,” I finally said, as she scooped two ladles full of soup into the blender. Whiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrr, the blender screamed, having only soft foods to pulverize. I watched as she carefully poured the resulting mush into a melamine bowl, and then slowly hobbled over to the table with it.

“Come, sit,” she said. She hobbled back to the counter, pulled a spoon from the drawer and with the same slow drag of her left foot, brought the spoon to the table.

I had no idea at the time what tremendous effort it was for her to do simple things like that, but now, at this moment, standing in my kitchen cooking, I understand that she loved me enough to know that I hated (still hate) the texture of garbanzo beans and she turned that soup into mush because that’s the way I liked it.

I have many memories of my Abuela, but not nearly enough. I relish those moments when she comes back to me because I find myself doing something she did, without realizing that it was from her that I learned it. Her memory, and the memory of my father, made me realize that our people never really leave us. They are in our DNA. They are the warp and weft of our memories. To visit them, we need only do what they taught us, without our even knowing what we’d really learned.

 

Year of a Hundred Things – “Thing” #78 – Falling in Love

There is no one way to fall in love. It happens frequently, and more than once in every life time. In fact, it could easily happen more than once a day. It is a wish for joy, for connection, for growth. It is NOT a need to possess. 

Since my first “love,” I’ve realized that falling in love and falling in need are two very different things. I am “in love” with many people, for many reasons. I do not covet a single one of them. They don’t validate who I am, or “make” me happy. They are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends and occasionally, people I’ve never actually met. Sometimes “they” can even be a place or an experience. There is something so unique about them, something so precious to me that having them in my life is immeasurable joy. 

It is often something simple, like the way they laugh, or the way they see the world differently than I do. They contribute to the tapestry that is my life, sometimes in ways I never imagined possible. 

And falling in love means that I want to enjoy them, and watch as they thrive. I want to talk to them, kiss them, touch them, laugh with them, comfort them when the feel need, but NEVER does it mean that they must give anything in return. In fact, they give simply because they are. 

You see, “falling in love” is an outpouring of the most generous emotion we humans experience. It impels us to be kind. Look around you every day, and fall in love with something bigger than yourself, something more compelling. It doesn’t mean that you have to stop feeling “in love” with anything or anyone else. If that were true, no parents would ever have more than one child.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I see my loves deeply, that I “know” them and that I encourage their deepest desires. It is who I am, and if I am “in love” with you, you are sure to know it.