8,500 Miles to Love

50love The Journey So Far

We have traveled 8,500 miles in Nessy (the Chinook van). This has included 18 cities. We have almost 200 online survey participants, 20-group discussions, about a dozen in-person interviews, and a handful of online interviews.

Along the way we have had surprise family struggles and lots of very frank discussions with people. One of the most interesting finds was this:

For residents of southern Michigan and northern Ohio that should be familiar. His name is Carlo F. Sommers and he lead a crusade for love. That was a major happy moment for me during this process so far.

One sad part for me so far is realizing that people are actually quite scared to talk about love. Most people we have met don’t want to talk about their personal feelings. They all start, and some never leave the space of, talking about what people believe. There has been a pervasive fear that they might give the wrong answer.

I can’t say that I have heard anyone say something that is categorically wrong; there are definitely trends that can be seen in what individuals see as the most important thing. Openness has been a big theme, understanding has been a big theme, and communication has been a big theme.

Here is my challenge to you: Write down what you think love is and read it out loud. Ask yourself if you really believe the words you are saying, and what is the most frightening part of enacting your beliefs.

Showing Love For Your Community

One of the looming questions for us in raising our cute beige baby is “how should we define the community he is part of?” I know there is going to be that weird moment when he asks about the very stark difference between black culture and white culture. I am quite aware that neither of these are monolithic, but I have never seen a place where the two are the same.

This question, how do you support the community?, is challenging even for otherwise very astute and inclusive people like Mikki Kendall and Skippington. Recently they both have said that anyone who is married to a white person is of questionable value to black communities. I think that is bullshit.

Mikki Kendall, the woman who started #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, and Skippington had an extended thread about the value (or lack) of interracial families for the community of the members. In the middle of their attack on feminism for disenfranchising women of color they broke down into a discussion of whether an interracial child is “Black enough” to be part of the community–that hurts my soul.

Skippington

One of the things that Rose and I discussed when we set out to find our new home was finding somewhere that Rockford would grow up with access to black communities. In part I want this because I feel like I missed that opportunity when I was a kid.

Ultimately, I want to pass on to Rock that you should know your neighbors. You should look people in the eye and greet them. Even though he will likely want to escape the neighborhood that Rose and I choose, I want him know that his life will be happier if knows his neighbors.

Making the Difficult Decisions With Friends

In my mind there is one really standout moment where I had to make a very difficult choice about how to support one of my friends. I had to decide which of two bad decisions was most supportive of what I knew my friend’s goals to be.

Back in 2006 I received an unexpected phone call from one of my friends. She wanted to talk to me about her boyfriend. Her boyfriend is one of my closest friends, both then and now.

She was on the fence about whether she should break-up with him. Part of her felt like the relationship was stale and had run its course. Part of her felt like they had a good thing, albeit not excellent. She felt like the fact that they didn’t live in same city was a problem, but she also liked the freedom that built in.

We spent well over an hour and a half on the phone. It is a supreme oddity for me to talk that long on the phone. We talked about her actions and his actions, her feelings, my thoughts, my shared history with both of them and so much more.

At the end of the conversation there was no clear answer to what was going to happen. While she felt much more comfortable having talked about it and being very thorough in thinking about it, she still hadn’t decided what she wanted from the impending conversation with her boyfriend when she went to visit.

This is where the situation became most difficult for me. I was faced with a decision that felt like a catch-22: should I tell him that I had this conversation?

On one hand, I have always believed that forewarned is forearmed; on the other, I felt loyalty and affinity for both parties. What if she decided that she didn’t want to break-up with him? What would happen if she decided not to even bring it up during that trip?

Not telling him seemed like it would make him mad at me. Telling him seemed like it would cause him to stew on the issue, or confront her and make things worse. I knew for a fact that this was the girl he planned to marry.

I told her that if the fight got heated (I was pretty sure it would) that it was okay to tell him that she had talked with me. To ask him if he thought there was anyone who would have done a better job advocating for him and his interests in the relationship.

In the end I chose not to tell him anything. At the end of their weekend together I heard from both of them. She thanked me for talking with her and letting her throw me under the bus. He told me that he understood why I made the decision that I did, that he couldn’t really offer any good alternative, and that he didn’t want to talk to me for a while.

So, what about you, what would you have done?

We Were Here: Ypsilanti, MI

We’ve been pushing east for weeks and weeks, with the goal of making it to Washington, DC for our friend’s wedding. Some days we drive until we’re exhausted, and sleep wherever the road is welcoming. Other days, the road is a little gentler to us, and we spend a little more time appreciating our surroundings.

When we left Vancouver, a friend of ours said, “you have to go to Michigan! My best friend is there, and it’s amazing!”
I’ll admit, I heard “Michigan is amazing,” and I scoffed a little, just to myself. But I was totally wrong.

Michigan is weird, and exotic, and magical. At least, for this child of the desert and mountains, it’s amazing. Dudes. It is SO HUMID here. I have literally 58 bug bites. I got new bug bites on my toes today, while walking around town. Carlos saw lightning bugs on his way back from the laundromat, but I still haven’t seen any. What I did see, however, was a terrifying cicada exoskeleton (and I learned that it’s called an exuvia!), and learned that, yes, my childhood reaction to that particular sight (panic!) still stands.

The MIchigander accent is rather cute!

One thing that I would not have believed before now: the people here are totally different than the Pacific Northwesters that I am accustomed to. This is weird, but…they actually talk to us. Black grandmas on porches, middle-aged white dudes smoking outside bars, college students, moms out with their kids. I don’t know if it’s because we’re a cute mixed couple with the awesomest baby ever, or if people are just more outgoing here, but I like it.

We’ve spent most of our Michigan time in Ypsilanti, home of Eastern Michigan University. Carlos is deeply disappointed that their mascot is not the Emu, but what are you going to do? I found their food co-op, which was surprisingly well stocked, and we’ve found several breweries in town. I don’t know how I’d feel about the winter here, or living in such a small town with a big school, but I think I could manage it. This had been one of the first places we’ve visited where I’ve felt really comfortable imaging a future for us.

Ultimately, though, I don’t think Ypsi is going to be our home, but it’s been nice to find a place that confirms that, yes, in fact, there are places our here for us.

 

image courtesy city-data.com

Shine A Little Light On The Road

Despite the impression that one might have, based on the fact that I write a blog about my depression, open relationship, parenting, and travels, I am deeply inclined toward hiding. I don’t like for people to know that I feel inadequate in so many parts of my life. I don’t look forward to people asking questions about the nature of my relationship. I really don’t want to be told how to raise my kid. I have a secret fear that sharing my travel plans will lead to stalkers finding me (the fact that I don’t have stalkers is irrelevant to my worry).

But here’s the thing: all of these are realities of my existence. The fact that I live with depression doesn’t make me in any way a lesser person. It doesn’t mean that I have failed. It doesn’t mean that my parents, or my partner, or my doctor, or my peers have failed. One thing that I have learned over and over is that I am not alone in experiencing depression. Depression is a liar; it whispers in our ears, telling us that we’re not like other people, that we should just stay in bed, no one wants us around. It robs us of perspective. As I’ve said before, I think it’s important to talk about it, because being open creates an environment that enables others to open up.

The same idea rings just as true for me when I think about my relationships. I entered the dating world having literally no idea how to proceed. I saw my parents’ marriage; I saw the dating relationships of my peers in high school; I knew that I wasn’t headed for marriage with any of the boys around me. I started out with poor social skills (oh, hey, severe introvert growing up in an unsupportive social environment!), and no one taught me any skills for interacting with intimate partners. This statement isn’t meant as an indictment of anyone; it’s just a fact. Every person has to learn how to have relationships as they go. That being said, I do believe it’s possible to help create a travel guide, if not actually a roadmap, for getting to a place you want to be your relationships. But I don’t think that any one (or two) of us can do it alone.

Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself. – Eleanor Roosevelt

Remember that survey about dating we wrote? And the one about family? The purpose behind them, and really, the purpose behind this whole endeavor, is to find the pieces of knowledge that people have that we ourselves don’t. When I started on the road of relationships, I didn’t have a map, and I didn’t know what all the signs meant. I didn’t even really know where I was trying to go. At this point, I know that there are lots of signs out there, and plenty of people who have deciphered them, at least in part. I have no interest in telling anyone how to run their relationships, or saying that one way is better than any other. I’m just trying to get my bearings, and understand the landscape around me. I know that, like my depression, I’m not the only one in this position. The way that I am approaching this problem might be unique, but the fact that I want to do better in my relationships is not.

I don’t think there’s any reason for us to be stumbling around in the dark when there are people around us with lights. I don’t think that there should be shame in talking about the things that do and do not work within the world around us. Romantic and familial relationships make up a huge portion of many people’s lives, and I believe that we as people can do better for ourselves and each other if we acknowledge that they take work, and that we all have things to learn about them. I want to be open about my process for the same reasons that I want to be open in my relationship: There is more, and it is better, when we say yes, instead of no.

 

Appreciating The Best Things

One of my favorite things about being on the road is enjoying the particular specialties of our favorite people. The other morning, I woke up in a house that has a whole section of the kitchen dedicated to coffee makers. There’s a thermal-carafe drip machine, an espresso machine, a siphon, a french press… I don’t even know if that’s all of them. In addition to the assortment of coffee, my friend tells me she’s been forbidden from buying any more tea, and omg, the beer. ALL THE BEST BEERS!

Before that stop, we hung out with my sister, who always has the best snacks. Seriously: when I was pregnant and struggling with the need to eat more food than I wanted to, I called her up to get a shopping list. On our last trip through Boise, her partner commandeered the shopping trip to make sure that we had all the snacks we’d need for the road, and put back the tortillas I had picked, in favor of way better ones.

Every house we’ve visited has had some kind of best thing about it. One of the AirBnBs that we stayed at had the best creepy taxidermy. (This is kind of a special category — no place else that we’ve stayed had any creepy taxidermy, let alone several dozen pieces). Thankfully there was no actual taxidermy in the bedroom we stayed in, just a couple giant plush animal heads. It was both fascinating and a little terrifying, to be honest. Almost every home we’ve stayed in has had some great art in it, which I’m going to call a credit to the awesome taste of the people who like us. Even hard pressed, I probably couldn’t say that one place had the best art. That’s totally OK with me.

Wyoming (to my surprise) had the best smells. Nebraska had the best lightning storms. Aunt Judy’s house had the best bunnies in the back yard, AND the best selection of kid’s books. I couldn’t wait to discover what’s best about my sister-in-law’s house. It turns out the answer is that her house has the best cousins in it. OK, yeah, that’s a tough call to make, but the kids (who are adults, or almost) spent most of the time we were there fighting (so gently) over who was going to hold Rockford, and bringing us delicious treats.

This period of our life is so strange, so chaotic, so unpredictable-despite-our-attempts-to-plan. It’s easy for me to feel overwhelmed, to feel like I don’t have anything but Carlos and Rock and Dita to anchor on, and taking the time to check in with my surroundings, finding something there to appreciate for its own weird and wonderful merit has been immeasurably valuable for keeping me grounded and in the practice of staying open to beauty and possibility. I think that when I have traveled in the past, I have not been great about anchoring my memories to specific places — was that cool castle in Grenada or Sevilla? Where did we eat all those tiny lamb chops? I like to think that making a note to myself about the things that are the best in each place has been helping me be better about remembering the places that we’ve been.

Who Do You Love?

During one of our recent interviews someone said, “I hope that I come to love my son for who he is, not just what he is.”

That moment crystalized for me. In the smudgy comic book of my mind people started dividing and filling those buckets: Who and What. I realized that if you were to press me about the five people that I call my siblings I can only confidently say that I know who two of them are.

I have affection for all of them and know things about them, we have known each other for 20-30 years, but I think that I have more understanding of Sean and Dee. When it comes to my cousins I think it point becomes even clearer. I have several first cousins that I have only met once. I wouldn’t hesitate to show them hospitality, but I don’t think that I would open in the same way as I would with the ones I know well.

Staying connected with family in many ways means balancing these two aspects. Acknowledging what someone’s role in your family is the least you can do. Showing love really means taking that leap into opening yourself to who they are, what they think, and how they feel.

In my own life I know that I am largely to blame for my distance from my family. In early years I only had good connection habits with one person, my dad. When he died I really never got back into the habit of talking to anyone. Between running from so many things, intense depression, and spending more than a year with neither a phone nor email I just forgot what to do.

By the time I came back to reality I didn’t use text, didn’t think about email, and really never called people unless I was trying to meet up with them face-to-face. Even though it has been a decade since I emerged from the jungle, I still fail at staying in contact with my family. Seriously, multiple times this year I have promised myself that I will write an email to a family member on Sunday. On Tuesdays I tend to realize that I have failed yet again.

In part this blog is a passive way to fight that bad habit. I am trying to get used to telling people where I am and what I am up to. Writing about all of this has given me an excuse, something specific to talk about, and a built-in subject to discuss.

Getting to know who a person is really requires asking a lot of questions. In that moment during the interview I realized that I was getting to know who this woman on the other end of Skype is better than I know most of my blood relatives.

To improve my community, and strengthen my family, I am going to start investing more into asking questions of the people that I love, even when I think I already know the answers. Ultimately, I really do want to love you people for WHO you are.

Doing the work of relationships

Every day when I wake up, I try to take a moment to remind myself about how incredibly lucky I am.

I tend to get caught up in my grump, or in the anxieties that swirl around inside my head. I forget that I am lucky, and I forget how incredible the people who support me are. I have recently been especially bad about this; I’ve let those thoughts drive the train of my behavior, right off the tracks into DisasterTown.

So there’s this thing about my marriage; it’s imperfect, and always under construction. Like anything under construction, sometimes it’s rough, but the intent is to make something better. Relationships are a two-person endeavor; it takes work from both parties to maintain and improve our state of being, and that work is not always divided evenly. Maybe your partner always wants you to do the dishes, or hates to drive on the freeway. Maybe you need a lot of help figuring out how to communicate effectively, or with managing your depression. The need that is pressing today may be in the background tomorrow, and forgotten a year from now. Working on a relationship is not like working on a house, even remodeling a house you’re living in. The work is never done, and there’s very little of it that someone else can do for the two of you.

Over the last couple of years, some people have said things to me that indicate that they think the distribution of work in my marriage to Carlos is unfair, that I am putting his needs ahead of my own, or that he does not do the work to take care of me. I find these accusations particularly infuriating because they come from people who have made a determination about what I need without talking to me, and about Carlos’s behavior without talking to him.

Here’s some truth: in the course of our relationship, Carlos has done most of the work of taking care of me, and of us. I don’t just mean the “pay the bills” work, but the hard and dirty work of knowing your partner and making a life together successful. For all the times that people have preferred to hear things from me over hearing them from him, he is the one of us who puts his shoulder to the grindstone of emotional intelligence and communication. I told him that I was going to have a baby with him, and he said “OK,” and I told him that I wanted him to marry me. He took a deep breath and said it again: “OK.” Every time that someone says to me, “how did you end up with him?” I (try not to) scream, “I picked him and he said yes!”

This conversation that keeps happening, about whether he values me, keeps making it clear that I am not doing enough to show that I value him. The best piece of relationship advice my mom gave me was this: you never know about a relationship that you’re not in. So, to the haters, I say: You don’t know. And to the non-haters, I want to say this: I am incredibly lucky, to have found a person who wants to grow and learn and live with me, as I actually am, and only asks that I do the same for him. I wish that those conversations about whether he was taking care of me had included a question about whether I was taking care of him, too.

In our interviews with people about their relationships and communities, it’s a question that we don’t ask often enough: how do you take care of your partner, and how does your partner take care of you?

Old stuff

I have a lot of stuff. I have always thought, “I wish I had less stuff,” while simultaneously accumulating more things. I don’t really know why I have always had such a hard time letting go of things, but I always have.

Because of some recent unpleasantness, Carlos and I have had occasion to open and sort almost every box that I have had left over from all the times I’ve moved as an adult, starting in 1999. From the time that I left my tiny home town to go to college, I have moved 19 times. Nineteen!

Among the many boxes that we sorted were photos I took in middle school, memorabilia from high school, textbooks from my time at Reed. I didn’t have very many things left in Patagonia when I left Portland for Yakima, and the things that I accumulated in the time I spent there before going to Olympia were few and had mostly already been purged. But still, my straggler boxes and Carlos’s together filled a 10×4 storage unit to bursting.

I don’t know why I have kept so many things, and why so many of the things that I have kept are such junk. I think that I have held on to so many things as a way to hold on to my past, to make some part of my story permanent.

I am not permanent. Permanence is not real.

I am afraid of change, and I am afraid that in changing, I will completely lose touch with where and who I have been in the past. I have held on to detritus with a belief that it is somehow magical, that those sophomore text books hold within them some secret essence of what mattered to me about that experience.

As I went through those boxes, though, I realized that all the things that I had been dragging around were not the magical totems of my life experiences that I had hoped they would be. They were just things. Now I wonder why I thought that they would hold that kind of power — I have never been a sentimental person, or an especially nostalgic one. As much as I have been prone to getting stuck, I am not much of one for looking backwards. In fact, the lack of desire to look backwards is probably part of how I ended up with so many boxes full of silly crap to begin with.

I can’t tell you that going through all those boxes was easy. I cried a little before we started, and spent a lot of the time cursing my many failings. But like the events that precipitated the Great Box Purge of 2013, there was liberation in the pain. I no longer feel like I have to hold on to parts of my past that weren’t really great the first time around. I had an opportunity to give all those tchochkes a moment of closure, and set them free. I did it with my core team, working together to build a new foundation out of the things that we each brought to our marriage (ok, Rockford didn’t actually help that much, but there was a surprising amount of second- and third-hand baby stuff in all those boxes).

I don’t know whether I’ll be better about my gravitational collection of junk in the future; because we are living so intentionally minimally, I think that I will have to be. I have written before about trying to occupy my physical space as a reflection of the way I want to be mentally and spiritually. I hope that this exercise in letting go can be the foundation for a better path in my future.

For The Love of…

In taking on this adventure, the first thing Rose and I did was go through a lot of introspection and conversation. Part of being intentional about how we build our family meant being aware and honest about our own failings and histories. For me the biggest issues to address were my family history of addition issues and time as an expression of love.

Overcoming Addiction

There are a wide variety of ways that people display addiction–not all of them outwardly negative. While we most often recognize patently negative addictions (alcohol, drugs, gambling etc.), there are also ways that people display addictions that aren’t as readily apparent. For the purposes of this post addiction is reaching an investment level in something where it interferes with your other commitments. So: can’t pull yourself away from work to pick your kid up on time (that is addiction); played WoW too long and missed your bus to meet up with your friends (that is addiction); didn’t eat because nothing fulfilled your dietary choices (that is addiction); hate yourself because you missed one day at the gym (that is addiction).

Principals are good, dedication to excellence is good, having a hobby is good–chronically letting them overshadow your relationships or self-care is bad.

When I sat down to think about it I realized that I use the same coping mechanism against addiction that my dad did in his later years – I do lots of things all at once. You can’t over-invest in things that you only do a little bit of, right? You also can’t be failing to do multiple things if you do two things at once, right? No, in fact, that is wrong.

I kind of have an addiction to the steep part of the learning curve, and to newness. When I needed to cut back on playing video games so I could get more packing done I started building a ukulele. When I needed to stop watching movies all day I researched the entire character biography of the Incredible Hulk. I basically distract myself into disengaging from the thing I am doing too much of, but I also have 2 or 3 almost finished projects at all times (and almost read books, and almost beat video games, etc.).

Accepting that one of my favorite things about myself–I have a wide variety of things that I am at least slightly proficient at (or come back to pretty fast)–is at the core the result of a major flaw, I over-invest, was a long abrasive road to travel.

A Change of Time

Time is really important. Being on time shows that you value other people’s time. I grew up in a family that was chronically late.

With my dad time was expansive; it took over and hour to go the grocery store that was literally across the street, we would talk to everyone, and we would get to the next thing when we got there, it was very laid back. I also just assumed that he was going to be 15-minutes late in picking me up, it was a fact of life.

On the flip-side of that coin my mother was inconsistently late; sometimes it was 15-minutes, sometimes it was 3-hours, but it was always late. That was scary for me, once I noticed.

I recognized that I can fall into both of their patterns. I need to teach myself skills to overcome the pre-dispositions and habits that have accumulated in me.

Here’s the Kicker

To combat this issue I have accepted that one of my bad habits is going to get worse. I am working to give myself not just permission, but also a mandate, to leave what I am doing to keep my promises to Rose and Rockford. I don’t finish the page, I don’t complete the e-mail, I pause the game, or let my character die. So, my pile of almost done has been getting bigger, but I have to accept that my obsession with knowing the name of the Incredible Hulk’s sons isn’t as important as waking up on time to take care of my son.

I’m still chronically late (I send a lot of text message ETA revisions and have lots of phone alarms), I still try to do too many things at once, but I am working to make sure that I shoulder the burden of my flaws instead of passing them on to Rose and Rockford to forgive me. I hope that in the long run they will see that in a global sense they are the most important things to me, even when I fall prey to my obsessions.