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When Death Comes

William Stafford is my favorite poet. He wrote of the Oregon and Washington landscape in a way that was an exact mirror of his subject. Because of him, I found Mary Oliver. Mary Oliver died today.

Her online obituary states:

Her poetry developed in close communion with the landscape she knew best, the rivers and creeks of her native Ohio, and, after 1964, the ponds, beech forests, and coastline of her chose hometown, Provincetown. She spent her final years in Florida, a relocation that brought with it the appearance of mangroves. “I could not be a poet without the natural world,” she wrote. “Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.” In the words of the late Lucille Clifton, “She uses the natural world to illuminate the whole world.” In her attention to the smallest of creatures, and the most fleeting of moments, Oliver’s work reveals the human experience at its most expansive and eternal. She lives poetry as a faith and her singular, clear-eyed understanding of the verse’s vitality of purpose began in childhood, and continued all her life. “For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”

Obituary via Facebook

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, towards silence

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

::: ::: ::: :::

Precious prayers. Thank you for the words, the beauty, and the truth, Ms. Oliver.


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The Food of Love (and Sex)

For whatever reason, for the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about sex and relationships in the context of food. I am not the first person to think about food as a metaphor for relationship and sex. Laura Esquivel wrote a beautiful and haunting book about that very thing: Like Water For Chocolate. (Holy moly. Super sensual.) But musing about the metaphor got me thinking about how nourishing sex, communication, and relationship are to us humans. We need them to feed us; many of us don’t feel ‘full’ without them. Of course, we all have different preferences and flavors and meals we enjoy- but sex, relationship, and communication are meant to nourish us in a way that is similar to how food nourishes our body- giving us energy, joy, pleasure.

One thing I was thinking about was how far I have come in my ‘meal preparation’ skills over the years. I think we all start out in love and relationships making what is most familiar to us. We start with the mac-and-cheese or spaghetti or ramen noodles equivalent of love and sex. Those are the basics and we all have to start where we are. As we practice love, sex, and relationships, some of us discover that we’re terrible at cooking- we never got decent instructions from our family and friends. Some of us discover that what we learned to ‘cook’ in terms of sex and relationships is actually plastic food- not real, nourishing, or tasty. Some of us discover that we actively sabotage our own good cooking- we use salt when the recipe calls for sugar. Some of us just can’t quite get in the groove with whoever else is in the kitchen- we keep bumping into each other.

But, like cooking, if you’re committed to the process of learning about relationships, you can make some really fantastic things in your relational life. You begin to learn that love, sex, communication, are different aspects of the whole meal. And perhaps you’re really skilled at some parts but need to learn and practice more in others. I’m very good at loving people- watching and learning about them and then caring for them in exactly the way that makes them feel encouraged, seen, and loved. I have also been toxic about that skill- loving too much (where I hurt myself) or controlling my boyfriend (and husband) instead of caring for him.

These days I feel like a master chef, though. I know how to make the separate pieces of sex, communication, and love work into a beautiful feast. I know how to grow the ingredients, prepare them, and make them work into something tasty, fun, and nourishing. (This applies to other kinds of relationships as well, not just sexual or romantic ones.) One of my soul lessons for last year was that I wanted to have more opportunities to teach people about sex and relationships and how to make them better. (Which I did and am doing.) So now I also have the skills to help people make better mac-and-cheese or figure out why they keep putting salt in their recipe instead of sugar. There will always be moments of bumping into the other folks in the kitchen, depending on the relationship, but I also know a lot about how to work through those issues and make it more of a dance. It’s been fun to learn this and also to be of more service to my fellow humans.

What’s on the menu?

One of the best meals I have ever eaten was at a renovated castle in Wales. We were traveling in England and Wales as part of the celebrations for my husband receiving his Ph.D. And one evening we had dinner out on the back deck of this small castle we were staying at. We were the only people there for dinner and a new chef was eager to prove his skills to his new employer. I don’t remember what the meat was, but it was delicious and I can still taste it in my mouth, nearly 20 years later. There were mashed potatoes and vegetables, reductions and dressings, and a decadent chocolate dessert. It was memorable and amazing. There was nothing that would have improved it. Nothing more was needed.

One thing I’ve learned about sex and relationships is that sometimes you realize you’re not being nourished by it anymore. For a variety of reasons, people find that their relationship just isn’t working for them and they need more or different kinds of nourishment in those areas. They start taking vitamins to keep the marriage intact, rather than learning how to cook something more nourishing- or leaving the kitchen all together. This is what affairs often revolve around. Something is missing- love, sex, communication, being seen or cared for, one person grows and the other doesn’t- and so we supplement it with another person. I don’t judge people for this anymore- I know it happens and I know a lot of people are just doing the best they can do. (What I do judge is people who don’t undertake the emotional and psychological work of figuring out what’s missing and whether they can learn to fix it or leave the relationship.) The thing is- supplements aren’t the same as nourishment. If they were, we’d all be living off of Flintstone and One-A-Day vitamins. Humans need real nourishment- in food and relationships.

There are other options, in the kitchen and in marriages. Long ago, my husband and I agreed that we could flirt with, and potentially kiss, other people- if it didn’t threaten our marriage. My husband is a fabulous dancer and when we go out, lots of women dance near him and compliment him on his dancing. He might flirt with a few of them, but then he goes to the bar, takes a shot of whiskey, gives me a kiss, and heads back out to the dance floor. It boosts his ego and it doesn’t bother me one bit. We talk about this like it’s a brownie, a small desert or snack. It doesn’t ruin the meal we have created- sometimes it enhances it because it gives us each a little ego boost and helps us feel attractive and alive. It’s a treat, a bit of fun, and we’ve both agreed to let it work this way. Because we define our relationship this way, it isn’t cheating. It all depends on how you use what you’ve got- you can make a feast from nothing if you know your intentions and you can use the space in your relationship as a chance to make something new, rather than supplementing what doesn’t exist.

In years past, I have wanted to sleep with other people, but that really seems like a step too far for me and my relationship (I’ve fixed things that were missing, in other words). It would be a true betrayal and I just can’t imagine doing that anymore. I really do love my guy, and sometimes we are so deeply in love it feels like it’s new all over again. But there are also those moments when it’s very clear I’ve not kissed anyone else for 24 years and I’d just like to have a drink with someone, flirt, chat, listen, smile, and maybe make out a little at the end of the night. It’s not going to break anything important and it keeps my spark alive.

::: ::: ::: :::

I think I’m realizing why I have been thinking about love and relationships as nourishment and food. The other aspect of this metaphor is about some of my soul lessons from this past year. If I’m a chef in this metaphor, my boundaries are the restaurant I work in and my soul lesson lately is to keep good boundaries. There are some wonderful, beautiful people inside my restaurant. They love me, they dig me, the get me, and I love them in return (not all of these folks are romantic relationships, obviously). There are also people outside the restaurant- some of whom happily walk past, no need to interact. There are also some folks outside who continue to press their nose against the glass and look at the menu taped to the window, but never open the door to come inside. In the past (even now to some extent) I will open the door and try to welcome them in- let’s say hello, let’s start the conversation about what you like and what we might cook together. But my lesson this year is to let those people do their own thing. If they want to come inside and see what we can make, they will. They know how simple it is- a call, a text, an email, a message. If they can’t extend the most basic communication, if they can’t even say they’d like to come inside and see if there’s a seat for them, then I am learning to let them do what they need to do- to stay safe and to stay away. It’s not been a fun lesson, but I get a bit better at handling it each day (well, two steps forward, one step back, anyway).

I don’t think of myself as a scary person, but perhaps I am to some people. Actually, I know I am to some folks. There are people I have kicked out of my metaphorical restaurant and some who can only come in the door but never have a meal. A couple of folks I have banished and put snipers on the roof for. So, yeah, I can be scary (but it takes a long fucking time for me to get there, so don’t be an asshole and it won’t happen.) If I can be scary, then I understand people being scared of me. And that’s okay. We’re all where we are and working with the skills and ingredients we have at hand.

I can see now that this metaphor is a gift from my mind- a way for me to see the lessons before me and be able to work with them more skillfully. It is a way to keep me accountable to myself- to make sure I watch myself and don’t fall into the old traps. It’s allowed me to see some things about my skills, my life, and my self that I needed to think about. I live by symbols and metaphors- they are wonderful tools that you can turn around in your mind and find new things to learn, new ways to see. So, yes, this metaphor is here to help, to remind, to help me grow stronger. (Our hearts and souls really do know the way- they help us in synchronous, serendipitous, and secret ways like this.)

::: ::: ::: :::

That’s enough musing for tonight, right, fellow travelers?
Big love from the couch,
Joanna :: xoxo


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‘Yes’

Last week was a stressful week for me and I decided on a new resolution for the year: more baths. After I finished a big goal- my Sex Surge book- I gave myself a shot of tequila, a slice of cake, a long, hot bath and a good cry.

Basic bath.

One of the things I thought about was the last part I wrote in my book. It is probably the most important part of the book and it centers on daring to take the journey that the Sex Surge calls us to. It is about daring to say ‘yes’ to what we want and need and taking the steps towards those things- even though we have no idea of the outcome.

I’ve been thinking about ‘yes’ a lot lately. What it means to say ‘yes,’ what kind of courage and curiosity it takes to step forward, how we do that, and why. Two quotes showed up last week, as I was pondering these things.

“… and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes
and then he asked me would I yes…
and first I put my arms around him yes
and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes
and his heart was going like mad
and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

– James Joyce

 

“So, empty your pockets. What have you got left of your life? Any dreams that were unfulfilled? Any unused talent that we gave you when you were born that you still have left? Any unsaid compliments or bits of love that you haven’t spread around?

And I will answer. “I’ve got nothing to return. I spent everything you gave me. I’m as naked as the day I was born.”

– Erma Bombeck

 

Saying yes is the only way we ever move forward in life. It is how we pave the road of our life. Yes by yes, step by step. No life is a straight line- we all zig zag through our decisions and their consequences. But yes is the only way we grow and change. If we don’t say ‘yes’ we don’t move, which we are also free to choose. But it makes for a boring life.

Saying yes is hard, though. There have been things in my life I knew I wanted and it was easy to say yes. College. Living on my own. Marrying my guy. Having kids. Buying a house. Those were some easy yeses. There have also been difficult ones. Moving overseas. Boundaries with family members. Moving to New England from Seattle. And there have been yeses that I had no idea what I was getting in to. Saying yes to what the Sex Surge asked of me. Getting my master’s degree. Actually being married. I had no idea where these things would take me, and yet, I said yes anyway.

Saying yes has also taught me about ‘no.’ If yes is the paving of the road, no is the yellow lines on the side- you can go over them, but the consequences vary. Some things I have chosen have cut me off from other options. When we moved overseas it cut off options for jobs and family connections- those became a ‘no.’ (Which actually turned out to be a good thing.) I have been handed a ‘no’ by some folks. When I asked for an open marriage (or a weekend pass) during the Sex Surge, I got a very clear no. And I had to learn to deal with it. I’ve had many no’s from many places and I have learned to live within those lines. (Although, I am terribly stubborn. If given a ‘no’ for a conversation about navy blue, I will always make sure you don’t want cerulean or turquoise or cobalt instead.) And certainly, with age, some things are a simple, clear no based on my own wisdom (which is to say: the outcomes of previous yeses have paved the way for this no).

Yes, however, is really what keeps us alive and moving forward. Yes to new adventures. Yes to outside our comfort zone. Yes to curiosity. Yes to joy. Yes to desire. Yes to ‘I don’t even know, but let’s try.’

Not everyone can live this way, to state the obvious. And it took me years to say yes in some cases- I wasn’t terribly open to yes twenty years ago. Sometimes being alive takes time to cultivate. Saying yes takes practice. I get that. (Also, I know yes can induce anxiety, fear, and procrastination in some folks. That’s okay.) But yes is still the only way we move our life forward.

Yes is the adventure. No is the course correction. But it’s all beautiful learning and growth and good for our soul. Even when things don’t go the way we want, the yes and the no we learn from are the gems of the journey. They allow us the opportunity to be ever wiser in our future yes and no. They allow us to find, at the end of our life, that we’ve spent every bit of what we were given.

May your yeses bring you joy and your nos be gentle, fellow travelers.
Big love,
Joanna :: xoxo


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Going the Distance

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it is that has made my marriage successful for the long run. In this modern age, in Western society, we ask a lot of our spouses (or partners, whatever level of commitment we’re at). We ask them to be best friend, lover, confidante, cheerleader, safety net, and also to split the chores. It’s a lot. And while my partner* and I aren’t all those things for each other, we play each of those roles at certain points in our relationship. Yes, he’s my best friend, but I also don’t have deep discussions about having a menstrual cycle and all the lessons that has taught me with him (that’s for my gal pals). He is sometimes my confidante, but not always; some things I hold inside myself for a while to process first. But we do well together, and I think there are some reasons why.

::: ::: ::: :::

We really want to stay together. There are a lot of skills that are necessary for a successful long-term partnership, but a lot of those can be learned if you don’t have them. What you have to have is the desire to stay together and the willingness to (be humble and) learn and do new things when needed. We have talked about getting divorced three times (over communication, values, and affairs), but when we came to the question, “Do I want you out of my life?” the answer was always “no” (and pretty clearly so). So we did whatever work was necessary to stay together.

I think the big thing to keep in mind here is that sometimes we feel like, “Jesus, this is hard work,” or “Fuck, I am so sick of you,” but that doesn’t mean we want to leave. And when someone does want to leave, I think we definitely owe it to the relationship to tell the absolute fucking truth about why it’s not working or what we want that we’re not getting to see if the other partner is willing to learn or change.

 

We do the work. I heard “When Doves Cry” by Prince today and the part where he sings:

Maybe I’m just too demanding/
Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold/
Maybe I’m just like my mother, she’s never satisfied/
Why do we scream at each other?

is so relatable for some of the work you have to do in long-term relationships. There were years when my husband would say something in a particular tone of voice and I would have this instant, visceral reaction and lash out at him. Turns out, his tone of voice was a direct emotional hit on something my mother used to do to me. I had to go to therapy to untangle that so our relationship could be easier. I had healing work to do from old wounds. The same is true for him. Long-term relationship is a path of development and healing. (If it isn’t, then LTR is a path of routine and numbness simply for the sake of safety. Some people dig that kind of routine, but I think it’s boring af. Who wants to be the same, do the same damn things for 40 years straight?) Sometimes that work is from places outside our relationship, and sometimes it is our individual stuff we have to work on. But, again, doing the work keeps what we have working as well as possible.

 

We support each other’s dreams and goals. My husband is a cyclist. Three years ago, he rode 10,000 miles on his bike in one year. The next year it was 11,000. And this past year (2017), he rode 12,000 miles on his bike. How did he do that? With our support. He wanted to reach those goals, so we helped him. (He also managed to destroy a pair of handlebars with his acidic sweat.) My husband has been 110% supportive of my work as a health educator for mid-life women. He sees opportunities to share my work in places I don’t even see them; and he’s proud to talk about my work. He supports my goals and dreams.

 

a set of bicycle handlebars that have been eaten through by acidic sweat

Will he do 13k miles this year? No. He’s learning to race.

 

We communicate until we understand each other. After twenty-two years together we have really grown in our ability to communicate well and also to understand each other. But we still have fights. The other day we were talking about something and I said, “We have always been different than other couples, and I need us to keep being different.”  And a few minutes later, he was telling me what heard me say, and it was, “We aren’t being different.” To which I was kind of stunned, because I was thinking, “that’s pretty much the opposite of what I said!!!!!” But we went back and talked until I knew that he understood what I was saying in the same way that I did. (To be fair, earlier in the same convo, I said to him, “Okay, what I think you are saying, is….” and he replied, “Yes, after two years, you get it.” We are both guilty of misunderstanding, but we both want desperately to be understood. And don’t we all want that in love?)

We also meta communicate, which means we talk about how we talk to each other. It’s not just “Let’s talk about why you hate doing the laundry so much,” it’s also “Let’s talk about why I don’t want you to call me a bitch when we talk about why you hate doing the laundry.” (He doesn’t do that. He would never.) Sometimes it’s what you say and sometimes it’s how you say it, and both are fair game for fixing issues.

 

We share about our growth as individuals. I think a lot of couples get worried when one partner grows and the other doesn’t. And this is a reasonable fear. So, one person shuts down because they are afraid the other partner is growing away from them and the other pretends not to notice until it’s too late and they either don’t like each other any more or they become ‘roommates’ or ‘players on a team’ together. My husband has had tremendous professional growth over the last 17 years and I have had tremendous personal growth in that same time. We’ve also had two kids and weathered some scary shit. It makes us see the world differently, but as long as we keep talking about how we’re changing, we have a much better chance of staying together.

 

We have fun and make great memories. We both love to go to concerts. We go together and we go alone. We love to travel and get the fuck out of small-minded Rhode Island. We travel to Quebec, England, and this year, France. We love to go out for quick dates (our kids are older). We love super quick make-out sessions in the laundry room and on walks around the neighborhood. One of my beloved’s favorite pictures of me is when we went blackberry picking years ago. We watch TV shows together and we laugh about crude jokes we would never tell other people. We make these memories and we relive them when times are tough- or just when we’re laying on the bed together, chillin’. (Which we also love to do.)

 

We try our best not to do the bad stuff. We don’t manipulate each other. We don’t gaslight each other. We don’t yell unless we’re expressing the intensity of our feelings. We don’t hold each other hostage emotionally (which is coercing by saying one partner must prove their love by doing xyz). We don’t lie. A few girlfriends before me (in college), my husband dated a manipulative woman. “If you don’t do all the housework, I can’t finish school, and I’m working hard for us.” She engaged in gaslighting– which is when your partner says things like, “no, that didn’t happen,” or “no, it happened like this…” (which is blatantly untrue), when they deny your experience or perception, or invalidate your feelings, among other things. These are hurtful, immature, and psychologically damaging tactics and they aren’t  part of successful long-term relationships. We keep away from them.

::: ::: ::: :::

I’m sure these aren’t all the things that have helped us stay together long-term but they are a good list to start with. Check back, I’m sure the list will get updated, knowing how my brain works. But these are the things that came to mind first, and they are the things that I go back to when I look at why and how we were successful. Now, that doesn’t mean these will be successful for everyone, but I think it’s important to at least talk about whether these measures are important in your own relationships.

Okay, my brain hurts. I love you all and hope you’re well. New moon soon!
Big love,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

* I find that I’m much more secure in sharing about my husband and our relationship now. In years past, I was deeply afraid that my desires would hurt him, would hurt or kill our partnership. But now that he knows everything, everything, I’m not as worried. I think I’m starting to spitball about relationships here so that I can look back, see what insights I have, see if they are applicable to others, see if they’re ready for my other website and work there. (It only took me three years to share this post over there…) You’ll probably be seeing more of this here because he’s the person I’ve learned all the good and bad stuff with.

 

 

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Intuition :: Practical Resistance :: The Last Jedi

I know that I will have more to say in the coming days, but I just got back from seeing The Last Jedi and it was fantastic. So much to explore and while it fulfilled the plot points of old myths, it also opened some new ones. I thought there was nothing new under the sun, and yet- there is.

I will leave you with these two points for now:

From a friend on Facebook:

“Here is some of the beauty of star wars:
1. the rebellion is lead by women over 50;
2. those women had fabulous fashion and sensible shoes;
3. all women had sensible shoes for their work;
4. representation matters.”

And the second is that how Rey describes The Force, and how Luke speaks of ‘sending your feelings out’ is exactly
exactly
e-x-e-c-a-c-t-l-y

what my intuition feels like.

It was kind of amazing to have it described so well.

 

More soon, fellow travelers. And get yourself out to see this film- it’s wonderful.
Big love,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

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