Are You Cheating?

“No one can be someone’s everything.” ~ Dan Savage

I was having lunch on a restaurant patio. A man sat at the table to my right by himself, waiting. When the server offered him a drink, he declined saying he would order when his friend arrived. He wasn’t glued to his phone passing time staring at his screen like most people these days. Instead, he eagerly watched the street scanning each car as it passed, looking for a specific one. When it came he lifted his hand and waved.

She arrived at the table wearing sandals and a white, cotton sundress with spaghetti straps – not overly dressy, also not typical for lunch with a work colleague. They said their “hellos”and fumbled awkwardly through initial conversation. She smiled non-stop, like she couldn’t help herself. His nervous excitement was palpable.

He propped his foot on the chair next to him resting both hands on his bent knee, attempting a relaxed pose. He fidgeted unconsciously, rubbing his hands back and forth against each other — an obvious tell that contradicted the casualness he was trying to project. A gold wedding band glinted on his finger in the sun.

She, too, wore a wedding ring though they clearly weren’t married to each other. They exchanged stories about their kids and it was evident they knew each other professionally, but something else seemed to be brewing at that table. A building attraction isn’t hard to spot if you just pay attention, even when people think they are keeping it on the down-low. The I’m-dying-to-know-you-better energy between them claimed space like a living presence. They eventually left, walking to their cars and parting after an embrace that lingered well beyond the merely cordial.

As if that interaction wasn’t interesting enough, the group at the table to my left was discussing polyamory (a.k.a. consensual non-monogamy). A couple people at the table were in polyamorous relationships and were discussing what that’s like, lauding the fact that it was guilt-free and satisfying precisely because everything was out in the open with their partners. One guy who wasn’t poly said there was absolutely no way he could do that. He respected the fact that others could but he knew he just couldn’t handle it. The emotional work of dealing with varsity-level human dynamics of that kind was overwhelming to him. He also seemed, at least on some level, to be conflating cheating with non-monogamy.

How interesting to find myself sandwiched between those tables. At one, the discussion involved relationship openness, negotiated consent, and transparent knowledge about the situation amongst all involved parties. At the other sat what appeared to be the beginning of something with the incendiary potential of a napalm bomb — a secret, building erotic attraction that could burn families to the ground and char anything in close enough proximity to be splattered by its searing residue.

All of it made me ponder what exactly is cheating? Where is the line that divides behaving and betrayal? What does it look like? What does it sound like? Continue reading

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Planned Parenthood, I’m Here For You.

“No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body.” ~ Margaret Sanger

I’m a single-issue voter. Not because I want to be but because it seems I must be, political climate as it is. Many issues concern me but none are as important as maintaining full control over my body and my reproductive destiny. That it’s 2017 and American women continue to have to fight for this most basic personal liberty means, at least for me, that other issues come second.

I support candidates, legislation, and organizations — like Planned Parenthood — who work to ensure my personal freedom, and I vigorously oppose whomever and whatever would impede it. On this, I cannot be swayed.

I can’t tell you how sick of this kind of thing I am: the patriarchy

I’ve had more than enough of smug, privileged white men who want to tell me what I and other women should do with our bodies. Any woman who isn’t offended by this patriarchal nonsense needs her head examined.

It’s quite simple. All I want is the same personal autonomy men have. To quote Diane von Furstenberg, “I want to live a man’s life in a woman’s body.”

For the record, I am unapologetically pro-choice, pro-family planning, pro-access to effective contraception, pro-unintended pregnancy prevention, pro-safe sex and STI testing, and pro-science/fact-based sex education. And while I shouldn’t have to say this, I will for those who might reflexively react to certain words I’ve used and misconstrue my position — I am both pro-choice and I deeply value human life. These are not mutually exclusive things. They never have been.

I’ve spent years thinking through these issues and what I know for sure is this: I’m the best person to make decisions about my body and reproductive destiny. And you’re the best person to make those decisions for you.

As Melinda Gates has said, “When a woman has the power to decide if and when to get pregnant, she has power over her future.” For me, that journey started with Planned Parenthood in 1985. I’ve been dedicated to them ever since, but let me tell you how I got there.

My mom always answered my questions about sex as I was growing up in age-appropriate, respectful ways. She also said one thing repeatedly: when you have sex for the first time, I hope you’ll wait until you are in love because sex is beautiful and special when you love the other person.

I was fifteen when I fell in love, finally encountering the object of my desire after months of quiet longing from afar. While taking a break from camping out for Prince tickets, he and I ended up at a mutual friend’s house and, after talking and laughing for a while, we shared a kiss that shifted me on my axis. It jumpstarted a teenagery love that was — like the cherry Jolly Rancher we passed back and forth between us during that first kiss — sweet, intense, and unsophisticated. Continue reading

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Lipstick in a War Zone

“Language is the cornerstone of society. It is the first weapon to be drawn in war.” ~ from the film Arrival

Does anything seem truer right now?

Whether you feel like you’ve been swept up into a collective, post-election panic attack or you’re an ALL CAPS “WE WON! YOU LOST!” gloater, weapons have been drawn and are being waved around wildly. Armed skirmishes abound.

I get it. I’m flabbergasted such an obviously unqualified, coarse, hot-head with less maturity and self-awareness than my seventh grader is about to have access to the nuclear codes. Speaking of, he just announced his intention to resume nuclear proliferation on Twitter. (See what I mean about that quote up there?)

If you voted for him and this doesn’t concern you, I can’t imagine what it would take. Uniformed thugs goose stepping down your street? We haven’t even made it to the Inauguration yet and each new day’s antics and pronouncements feel like some fresh hell. It’s going to be a long four years.

So yeah, I feel like lashing out too. After all, scorched-earth ragers feel so good going down, don’t they? Like the buzz from the first drink of the night as it hits your blood stream.  I’ve held my tongue a lot over the past 45 days because good things rarely come from acting out of blind panic or reactive fury.

I’m trying to take a measured approach because I think he wants us immersed in chaos, distracted and jerking off on Twitter in righteous outrage over his latest shenanigans while he presses forward with destructive, destabilizing action. It’s hard to mount an effective resistance when half the people are in a full-on panic.

We would do well to keep the essence of this Drive-By Truckers lyric in mind when thinking about DJT: “[he] ain’t as smart as he’d like to be. But he ain’t nearly as dumb as you think.”

Vigilance is key.

Continue reading

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Worth Saving

“Strong women – may we be them, may we know them, may we raise them.” ~ Unknown

“I think back to my complicated relationship with my father and not fitting into the paradigm of his idea of what a girl should be and how, in his disappointment of me, it had so deeply affected me in regards to how I valued myself. In that moment, I realized that I couldn’t rely on anybody else telling me I was worthwhile. And it was in that split second that I made the decision that I was worth saving.~ Annie Bradley

Donald Trump is repulsive. Still, I thank him. His confounding presence as the Republican nominee is forcing us to face the ugly truth about just how deeply-rooted toxic, masculine entitlement and misogyny is in America, and the serious ways it affects girls and women.

In the aftermath of the public exposure of Trump’s unguarded words with Billy Bush about how he views and treats women, writer Kelly Oxford created #notokay on Twitter and invited women to share stories of their first sexual assault. Within days, 27 million tweets were associated with that hashtag. So, thank you Trump, for unwittingly kick-starting this conversation by bragging about pussy grabbing. It’s overdue.

I have a few stories of my own. I can think of at least four times I was groped by men who were strangers or relative strangers to me. More seriously, I also had one experience of date rape. If you are a woman, I’m guessing you have similar stories. Continue reading

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What Death Leaves Behind

“I mourned her uncomplicatedly and absolutely.” ~ Julian Barnes, Levels of Life

I hope I die first.

I’ve loved Steve for such a long time. I don’t dwell on thoughts of death, and maybe it’s just a weird, self-flagellating tic, but sometimes I find myself thinking about what his absence might feel like. I imagine the gigantic crater of it, the brutality of the grief of losing this person I long ago invited to take up residence in me, the possibility – the probability – of being undone by it. Then I try to imagine what it would feel like to get up and go on in that new reality.

“The thing is – nature is so exact, it hurts exactly as much as it is worth, so in a way one relishes the pain, I think. If it didn’t matter, it wouldn’t matter.” ~ Pat Kavanagh

Deep grief feels like an entity pulsating with its own life force. A sadness so total it throws you backward and knocks you nearly senseless. And there you are, curled protectively into a ball against it, hearing the noise of your own heartbeat pounding in your ears, eyes squeezed closed, willing it away while it instead crouches over you breathing acrid and hot in your face and licking your cheek in the most appalling way so there’s no question it is in charge. Continue reading

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Providence or Something Like It

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” ~Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Esalen Bath house

I was naked, eyes closed, head against the wall of the building pictured above, soaking in a tub of steaming water that smelled like boiled eggs, listening. Seven others were also in the tub. I faced the room and its six massage tables with naked people sprawled on each. Giant glass walls had been pushed open. The sound of surf pounding shore competed with the sound bouncing off the concrete walls inside the room. Another large tub lay to my right, full of naked people. In between, two nude men perched on stools playing didgeridoos – Australian, Aboriginal wind instruments that produce a vibratory drone – while women sang ascending notes of accompaniment. If “mystical ritual” has a sound, this was it. Women undulated to the music, arms snaking lazily around their heads in a kind of moving prayer. It was a quintessential Esalen experience – unique, oddly beautiful, chuckle-inducing. (Well, that plus watching the gaggle of towheaded, dreadlocked hippie-toddlers running feral across campus each day.)

I spent the last week of June at a writers’ camp at the Esalen Institute – a retreat center in Big Sur and birthplace of the New Age movement – led by Cheryl Strayed and five other amazing writers/teachers.

[photo credit: Maureen Fan. Writers’ Camp Faculty: back row, L to R – Steve Almond, Cheryl Strayed, Alan Heathcock; front row, L to R – Faith Adiele, Samantha Dunn, Pam Houston.]IMG_1761

But let me back up a sec because this is an interesting story.

Continue reading

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Musical Obsession: Foals

“You put the snake oil under my tongue, show me the door, the way to be free. Cause you know the moves that only you do make fools of a boy like me.” ~ Snake Oil


For awhile now Foals has been in heavy rotation on my playlists. They were at the Shaky Knees fest in Atlanta last weekend. Of all the bands I saw, Foals played the best show. No one else even came close. They played with unmitigated ferocity. It was intense – the musical version of an exhausting, satisfying sexual experience with a conscientious, confident lover. Continue reading

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