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10,000 miles running on empty


On Wednesday December 12 at 3:07pm PST, Catbird and I shared our ten thousandth road mile as we beat rush hour traffic into Portland on US-26 E. The escalation we experienced during our descent towards the Columbia River was wound with the celebratory feeling and guilt of accomplishment. Our millennial mile experience brought to surface the many contradictions at the heart of our journey:

individuality / cultural-cliche

autonomy / (co)dependence

achievement / privilege

sustainable city / fast food living

engagement / unfulfillment

I. individuality / cultural-cliche

Before departing on Oregon Trail 2012, I was well aware that I was participating in a multi-generational celebration of the American narrative of individuality and independence. (This American mythos has spanned centuries from the country’s beginning in an escape from religious persecution to the “frontier” that drew mass migration across mountains and deserts to the pursuit of spontaneity by the Beats and its admirers to the recent migratory patterns for millennials after the economic fallout).

However, as I experienced in Boulder and later upon my arrival to Portland, I felt less like a self-directed individual, and more like an obnoxious cliche. Rich suburban white person who loves traveling the world. Check. Over-educated young adult moving to Portland because he hasn’t chosen / doesn’t want a career path. Check. For every one of me, there were 10,000 more.

II. achievement / privilege

I also had no illusions from the get-go that I was free of financial, race, and gender privilege. Clearly purchasing a vehicle, smartphone, and equipment before a several month long road trip without any income and student loans is not an opportunity many people encounter in their 20s. As I traveled, these privileges either receded in my consciousness as I encountered fellow travelers or became glaringly salient as I found myself houseless in Portland yet not without a vehicle to sleep, travel, and commute in.

My Mom was amazed by my accomplishment of traveling thousands of miles across the US, backpacking in remote wilderness, and finding work in PDX. Friends found the trip inspirational. Yet, it became obvious that as tough as it could be, I had a safety net and I was in some way “playing” vagrant. On the one hand, this is a life I chose for myself, grounded in my values. On the other hand, it is a delusional attempt to shed the privileges I have access to for being a white, affluent, cis-male. Had I been trans or a cis-woman, I would not have enjoyed the psychological security from feeling safe living on the road, and had I been dark-skinned or driven a more conspicuous vehicle, I would have received as much leniency and disinterest from the police.

III. sustainable city / fast food living

Another irritating contradiction is moving to the pacific north west to be a part of more sustainable and socially conscious communities, but through surviving out of an automobile on a fast food diet. There is no essential mandate that comes with a car to eat out while on the road, but if one is a houseless employee who lives in a sprawling suburb and who doesn’t dumpster alone, fast food is very fitting.

Tucked away in the comforts in an unofficial sex-for-housing work exchange I had access to a masticating juicer, Vitamix, wicked food processor, a gas stove, and a spacious fridge. Living on the road I have a small Jetboil, can opener, spork, and unrefrigerated food storage behind my front seat. Fixing a meal on a backpacking trip in the privacy, warmth, and dryness of desert dusk is exciting, but cooking up Progresso lentil soup or Tasty Bite Chana Masala at night in the chilly rain in a public parking lot, not so much. The former is romantic and your only option; the latter can be humiliating (or at least conspicuous and invasive) and less appetizing than your alternative, picking up a hearty Chipotle burrito.

The cost to the environment from commuting to work and downtown via car may be high, but the cost to one’s bank account and patience is less. With the exception of rush hour, one can shave off an hour of transportation, and unless one is commuting from Hilsboro to the PDX airport in a Hummer, the $3.30/gallon is softer on the hemp wallet than the $5 roundtrip ticket. With no house in which to store one’s stuff, one carries extra weight wherever you go. With lack of food storage and a kitchen, one can’t reduce much waste from the necessity of packaged and ready-made foods. One tries to rationalize it by thinking one takes up less space and energy (from cooking and heating), and leaves housing options available to people who need them more, but by the end of that thought, one’s ego deflates and the guilt returns.

IV. engagement / unfulfillment

One means of diluting the guilt of privilege, unsustainable living, and hypocrisy is volunteer work. I joined a half dozen organizations ranging from hospitality for the homeless to conservation guide at a state park to board member of a vegetarian outreach organization. Filling every corner of one’s temporal existence left empty after being disposed of by one’s ex-lover gives one destinations to dart back and forth between. But as meaningful as those destinations may be, one can’t shake the empty feeling that returns to one when one arrives to one’s automotive companion. No matter how many admirable deeds and attractive people one does, the meaning is compartmentalized and lacks a larger framework to make one’s work and social life fulfilling. There is no cohesion of a narrative self, no synchronized relationship to a world that just fits.

V. autonomy / (co)dependence

Ultimately, my journey failed to inspire me, to attract love to a particular project, place, and/or person. The more absent love, the more salient one’s dependence on another becomes, possibly the more one would like to escape that dependence in “freedom” and “autonomy”– which are really just code words for a narcissism that closes its eyes to its yearning and fulfillment through others. How often is the quest for self-sufficiency a quest to escape a human condition, to wind up on a treadmill of freedom from, never arriving at a for.

Oregon Trail 2012 may have been a success in many ways, but not in such a way as is most necessary. Without love, “I” am abandoned. I’m tangled up in my own thoughts and string like a strip of used tape that, once pulled apart, sticks to nothing else, that is essentially used up. Like tape, humans have the propensity to stick to things, to nestle their way into the folds of others and be apart of something larger than themselves, to share something with an other–whether human or nonhuman. It’s wearisome to be blown around, unable to stick, bouncing off those objects one might otherwise love. After a while, it becomes part of what you are–forever wanderlust for a sticky situation.

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Time has us by the Strings


Just now, while searching through my old files, I found a letter I wrote to my ex just over 10 months ago. Since I haven’t had time between co-authoring a chapter, working on a farm, and dealing with yet ever more exciting “ex-relationship” drama, I thought I’d post it here. <But then I changed my mind at the last minute>

 

I. An Untimely Self

This letter was my final attempt to move my ex through logos, and it’s failure to do so–the failure to rebuild trust and intimacy with meaning–left me disillusioned more than ever with reason. At the end, I resorted to ethos, to find a common meeting ground, a simple, common, everyday activity to bond over, but every invitation was blocked. Logos and ethos could not have access to pathos so long as I had become the abject of my ex’s subjectivity. My attempts at logos and ethos were in fact a symptom of the larger problem. Both tactics pressured her to live by my time, rather than letting her be as she had become in her own time. The tactic I should have followed was kairos, an attentive, self-restrained patience.

Although what she said most often was that she needed space, what I think she really meant was time. Within the tradition of liberal humanist discourse, personhood has been defined territorially, not temporally. To say one needs to be oneself is interpreted as one needing distance from being touched, from being affected  by something outside. The subject, to have integrity, needs to be autonomous–not dependent on others–to properly perfect oneself according to one’s own image. Yet such existential independence is rarely achieved, especially when space must be shared. To let one be is not so much leaving space as it is respecting time. For who we are changes, and although change can be very painful, it must be affirmed if we are not to act violently to ourselves and others, to manifest suffering.

 

II. A Puppet of the Past

I cringed when I acknowledged that this letter retains relevancy in the present. Reading the letter encouraged me to reflect on my recent behaviors over the past couple months to make amends with someone I became very intimate with and likewise had to live and work with in the aftermath of intimacy. I find myself making the same mistakes,  attaching myself to the value of “I” and the possessiveness of “me.” Each time a powerful “relationship” comes to an end, I feel simultaneously devastated and empowered, for I have learned through my faults. But history teaches me that it is so easy to let faults slip through our consciousness back into the body of habits. I discover myself repeating these uncanny words.

Without losing myself, I will not become someone else. Yet, after months on the road relatively cut from my former roots in Texas and Illinois, I cling fast to my bumper during each intentional swerving maneuver to release me. Consciousness and swerving has helped clean up some “noise,” but has not established a new paradigm for my being. I sit on the side of the road lost in thought, but not of the past. My familial, fraternal,  and romantic relationships are knotted around my ego, suffocating it of creativity. The knots tie me down to people and land I am thousands of miles and hundreds of days apart from, playing me like a marionette. I’m a puppet of the past. The more force I apply to these strings, the more tangled I become; the more I act like a Man, the more of a mockery I prove myself to be.

 

III. Concrete Reality: Time has got us by the Strings

Must one accept our string, our knotty personas, to move beyond it? To master oneself, one must not attempt to master others, but to master kairos, to master a situation by allowing it to be and be undone. For years I have attempted to  master time, to conform the present to the fantastic future and the future to my representation of it in the present. But to live in fantastic expectation, to force things from out of the present,  only works so long as the fantasy is not traversed.

The difficulty of reality is our exposure in time, our ineffable exposure to ghosts from the past and omens of the future. Reality is that time has us, not us it. Karma is the catching-up of time when we believe we have moved beyond it. Suffering is the manifestation of reality’s disillusionment of our ideals once time has tagged us. Once tagged, we are not I, but is. And is is all there is. If we cannot accept that, we cannot accept ourselves, and so we suffer even as time has passed us by. We continue to dragged ourselves behind or run ahead of cars, and so eventually feel the friction of reality against our flesh, tearing us apart without pulling us together.

In writing this, I feel as though I’m resigning myself to fate, writing against resistance. Do I prefer life as a puppet over life as a person or has my thinking finally become just as tangled up in knots as my identity?

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Oregon Trail: List of Follies


I am not bear meat. At least not yet.

Hopefully my month-long absence didn’t keep any of you up at night, peering suspiciously into the eyes of the childhood teddy bears you secretly hide beneath your beds, right next to the boogeyman and crocodiles. I haven’t had much down time and computer access to do much blogging since my work at the Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, UT. I left you on Day 3 and now I’m practically on Day 50. I have a lot to catch up on! The good news is that I’ll be settled next week for several months in southern Oregon. The bad news is that my activist-academic obligations have caught up with me so posting will be put on the backburner.

To wet your curiosities, allow me to a list several stupid things I’ve done so far on my trip (after thoroughly documenting my follies, I realize I’ve committed several baker’s dozens)!:

THE LIST OF FOLLIES:

  • Day 0: Putting up resistance to receiving a pair of trendy, non-scratched, properly prescribed glasses to take on my trip as backup to my contacts (which I haven’t worn since the first week).
  • Day 1 -present: Ingeniously leaving my laptop at home as if I would not waste hours on the internet on my smartphone, and as if I could actually blog from the shitty cellphone formatted wordpress page.
  • Day 1+: Daringly seeing how far I could go with my low gas tank (Seinfeld-style) before needing to refill.
  • Day 8-21: Assuming my digestion problems for two weeks were related to the Indian food I was eating, and then continuing to eat it in epic proportions.
  • Day 9-12: Flirting hardcore through texting with someone hundreds of miles away who I was never going to hookup with when I already was doing so with another person a hundred miles away who I was going to instead of catching-up on reading books and writing blog posts.
  • Day 15: Being stupid-late for a date because I wanted to see the Later Day Saints’ Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
  • Day 18: Parking a mile and a half away from my destination in Salt Lake City because of expensive, non-vacant two-hour parking spaces when parking was ridiculously-vacant and free. And then later forgetting where I parked, and realizing that I parked in a closed parking garage and had to make an illegitimate exit.
  • Day 22: Navigating Catbird into a four wheel drive-recommended campground in the blazing desert heat, and trapping myself in the coral pink sand.
  • Day 23+: Deciding I didn’t need sunscreen.
  • Day 25+: Commencing a four mile hike into the desert on a busy trail without stopping at the pit toilet first.
  • Day 25: Embarking on a solo backpacking trip down into the lair of a mountain lion 1,300 feet below on a primitive trail at sundown with an inadequate map.
  • Day 27+: Not once, not twice, but several times not making reservations at campsites, forcing myself to sleep in Catbird on pull-offs and rest stops… after sleep-driving.
  • Day 28: Haphazardly joining tours I know nothing about, and frustratedly sitting next to a bunch of naive tourists from Europe and Japan for an hour and a half.
  • Day 29: Purchasing non-synthetic oil to feed Catbird because I thought the auto-mechanic was pulling a fast one on me by telling me I should purchase the synthetic which costs three times as much.
  • Day 29: Arriving at Mathers’ campgrounds in the Grand Canyon without a map in the middle of the night.
  • Day 30: Walking the entire West Rim trail late in the day, and getting lost in the Grand Canyon for the second night in a row.
  • Day 32: Abstaining from refilling my water reservoir as I hiked 4,500 feet out of the Grand Canyon, running empty on water with a mile left on the strenuous climb in the merciless heat, and then discovering at the top that I had a filled Nalgene in my backpack’s side pocket.
  • Day 33: Reluctantly purchasing a beer from a hunting and fishing shop I accidentally walked into while wearing vegan propaganda, and then having nowhere to drink said over-priced beer except in an alley across the street from a poster condemning underage drinking.
  • Day 33: Clumsily staring straight into a solar eclipse above the rim of complimentary NPS eclipse-viewing glasses.
  • Day 35: On a whim, wading chest-deep through the Virgin River for several miles in trail runners without any water protection for my electronics, books, and notes.
  • Day 36: Swimming through the chilly waters of a slot canyon that also happens to be housing a wind tunnel for 30 mile per hour winds.
  • Day 24: Assuming there would be affordable vegan food in south-central Utah.
  • Day 39-41: Choosing Las Vegas as a multiple-day destination on my trip.
  • Day 39-41: Inviting family to hang out with me in Las Vegas.
  • Day 39: Only purchasing 6 vegan donuts to eat in one day from Ronald’s Donuts.
  • Day 40: Stubbornly ordering the ghost-pepper option on an Indian restaurant menu despite two waiters consistently discouraging me from doing so, and then signing a waiver confirming how stupid I am, and that the restaurant is not responsible for any injury I bring to myself.
  • Day 41, 42: Procrastinating to make a reservation for a Yosemite Park campsite the day before I arrive, and then waiting until  I’m driving through the Sierra Mountains (assuming I would have cellphone reception) to tell them I will be late so they would not give it away.
  • Day 43: Reading all the exhibits at the Yosemite Visitor Center and Anawahee Museum when I had to check-in and out for the night before to avoid being charged an extra $20.
  • Day 43: Deciding to continue a stroll up a strenuous trail around two massive waterfalls with tractionless-Teva sandals.

I hope you had more fun reading these than I had experiencing them.

With Love,

Dean

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Oregon Trail Day 1.2


Day 1: On the Road
Date: April 18, 2012
Journey: Chicago, IL to Lincoln, NE
Total miles: 529m (40.5mpg)

… continued from part 1

IV. Agri-Cultures of Animals and Machines (Illinois)

It had been a while since I had driven through western Illinois. I used to travel in this region on my way to and from college during vacations, but never this far west. Past DeKalb, were several egg confined animal feeding operations [CAFOs], or what people call “factory farms.” This would be the last I would see of land animal life in a long while. Animals were absent out here. I wondered how many drivers ever thought to notice. The replacement of companion species and wildlife by machines had become so common place, that this was once the home of other life besides humans and corn, wheat, and soy had been lost. It reminded me of Aldo Leopold‘s hard words on Wisconsin’s relationship with a prarie plant:

In [the cars] there must ride at least 10,000 people who have ‘taken’ what is called history, and perhaps 25,000 who have ‘taken’ what is called botany. Yet I doubt whether a dozen have seen the Silphium, and of these hardly one will notice its demise.

Yet animals as a general class of beings ought to be a much more noticeable absence. We interact with them everyday at restaurants, grocers, and in the kitchen, but their lived existence has become all but part of a mythical past or never never land. One does not think much of animals until someone brings up an argument of their “rights,” and then comes out the argument that if we did not kill them, where would all the animals go. If only they got out to the country and witnessed that the animals are gone, stuffed into warehouses and feedlots, their wild cousins extinct or displaced from the land presently devoted to feeding “livestock” with unsuitable crops. The crisis between our relationship with animals is one of space and ethos. We no longer dwell with, amongst, or on them except in the abstract field of debate and internet memes.

 

V. The Poetry of Place (Illinois, Iowa)

Wind turbines stood like giants in the horizon. Were they the herald of a new age of sustainable technology or an ominous signpost of an age where the land would no longer be inhabited by humans and animal others? Their was something so foreign about them, as if they were artifacts of an alien civilization.They were so elegant, but also so sterile. The land looked even more efficient and productive under their whirling shadows.

Yet, even the tallest of the titans paled in comparison to the sea blue dome above. Was it just me, or was the curvature of the Earth clear as day under the concave sky? Outside of the city one could experience the vastness of space, the stretches of what was once a sea of prairie. It was humbling to drive through such an expanse. The churches seemed fitting. The mosaic of soft clouds above beckoned some form of worship or at least a moment of reverence. Compelled to narrate my excursion through analogies, I could not make sense of my experience otherwise. The open road has poetry at its essence.

The Ronald Reagan fed into I-80 like a capillary into a vein. The road is the circulatory system of modern America, part of “the American experience” and its commercial excellency. Capital circulated through this vast system, and so did people.

I popped out on the other side of the Mississippi. I was in the West–sort of. Often people bash Iowa. They say it is a bore to drive through, but they are probably just not paying attention, or perhaps I arrived during the right season. On I-80 there were not so much of corn fields in sight, but there were undulating paved roads banked by lush green fields and trees. Catbird breezed up and down as if it was her first flight on the road.

As the road conditions scrapped-off some of my car’s fuel economy, I thought about the interstate highway system. It’s designed to transport people and capital from point A and B as efficiently as can be. But was efficiency the ultimate value of an open road? They could have flatten out I-80 for a little extra dough to save that much more fuel. It would have perhaps saved money and resources over the long term, but it would have eliminated the geography and history of the land. The tides of traffic and and ebbs and flows of the road gave testimony to the land and its inhabitants. To iron out these inefficiencies would be to erase the land of its personality and the experience of place. Agriculture had already butchered the land up into a grid, each piece having become property, and not much more. The obstacles to efficiency was a reminder of the alterity of the earth, which prevented us from getting too caught up in our narcissistic narrative of our mastery over it. The winds and bombs forced us to look and perhaps even respect that we were traveling not only in between landscapes, but through a living history of meanings and beings.

 

VI. Half-way Stretch (Iowa, Nebraska)

At a rest stop before Des Moines, it had not been more evident that I would have to make this a two day trip.  And I definitely wasn’t going to make dinner at McFoster’s Kind Cafe (which i had been looking forward to reviewing for at least a week). It was at least four hours away from Omaha–the midpoint to Greeley from Chicago–, and I had just woken up from an accidental nap. I couldn’t just show up somewhere at midnight and expect a place to stay and I had made a rule not to stay at motels/hotels/hostels during my trip, so I searched for campsite on Galaxy and found one in Lincoln, Nebraska that got good reviews. They had spots open for cars and tents and would allow me to pay in the box when I arrived so I would not have to pay up front if I decided to travel any more or less.

Although the drive was beautiful, the repetition on the road offered a lot of time for self-reflection. In fact, I had so many during the drive about love, sex, and death (including my mass murder of insects) that I decided to dedicate a whole post just to them. There were, however, every now and then breaks from the common scenery such as the “World’s Largest Truck Stop” outside of Iowa City, equipped with a parking lot of spaces the size of semi’s and a gas station with several fast food chains inside. You’d think you were in Texas. I entered Des Moines after nightfall. The city was lit up and the Capitol looked beautiful. I had never been to Des Moines, but wish I had some time for a visit after seeing all the pedestrian bridges over I-80.

Nebraska was not as hilly and lush as Iowa, but had its own natural beauty… at least on the other side of the windshield. Then I rolled the windows down it smelt like beef jerky and burt tires. Omaha also looked like a cool city, or at least they wanted you to think that from I-80. It had a bridge decorated in giant heart art and an epic welcome sign three stories off the ground next to the beautiful engine train car. Outside of Omaha, I fed my second tank ten gallons of what might be called “corn oil,” the Midwest’s finest. It was also the first time I was excited to pay $3.50 for a gallon of gas–$0.60 cheaper than in Lombard.

At midnight, I finally arrived at my $19 a night site at Camp A Way, an RV campground in Lincoln, Nebraska. I bumbled my way around the office and bathroom in the dark to fill out my information and deposit my money for the night, but there were no such forms, no map of the property, and no access code for the bathrooms. I made do with the envelop and pencil I was provided and drove down to an empty site and parked there. I cracked open the windows for some night air and laid awkwardly on the backseats. Sleeping didn’t come quite so easy this time, but it felt darn good  to be on the road with such an extended period of solitude and a bright future ahead.

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Complimentary Dates


I.

Before I returned home in January to avoid the emotional and social aftermath my ex concocted, I updated my OK Cupid status to Chicago. Although I had some old friends I was excited to see, I didn’t have a community of people to chill with like I did while in grad school, and I wasn’t living in the city so it would be more difficult to make one or find people to go out with. More so, I was looking for some validation that I was attractive dating material… plus, I wanted to bone. The free dating site didn’t do much for me in Texas. There weren’t many rad feminist nerds, and if there were, I was limited because I didn’t have a car and I was swamped with grad school work. To my surprise, I had hundreds of visitors to my profile within the first couple days. By the time I arrived at O’Hare airport, I had several dates lined up and a potential six or seven more. My self-esteem was at the highest since the Spring.

So I spent my first week hanging out with some friends (a philosopher transplant in a Northwestern English grad program, a Texas socialist, an old friend kinky hipster) and some dates. My first date–a microbiology teacher and grad student–in Chicago was promising. We went out twice, but she was too busy to pursue a relationship with someone outside the city. My second date was a different story. We both thought one another was cool, and we both had survived bad breakups and really wanted sexual satisfaction. We met up a couple times, and both enjoyed the sex, but I didn’t feel comfortable afterwards. I wasn’t attracted to her beyond a political level and felt like I was just using her for sex. I went on another 8 or so phone and dinner dates, but most didn’t amount to anything due to a disinterest on either one of our ends. Eventually I became exhausted from my commutes to the city, and I even began to question the point of all the dating. Yes, I was hanging out with cool people, exploring the city, eating great food, and upping my dating experience points. But what was motivating me? Sex? Companionship? Boredom? Procrastination?

II.

A couple months and a couple hundred dollars later, I didn’t feel any better than where I started. I had not much to show for my time at home. I intended to volunteer at a humane education organization and attend couch surfing events to make friends and get referrals, but with little results.  Okay, I had watched the entire series of Battlestar Galactica. This 72-hour accomplishment is quite the feat for someone who hasn’t watched any TV (save a couple series on DVD like Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm). But the show only reminded me of my ex. I couldn’t separate it from her because she would talk about it all the time in the month before the breakup. I couldn’t stop guessing which character she identified as and what she must have thought about the character’s relationship tensions as we wen though our own. It was a bizarre exercise of the imagination. Besides Battlestar, I did quite a bit of reading. It felt great to read novels again after grad school, but I soon became impatient with even this.

In the last six weeks of my stay, I focused less on entertainment and more on planning. I found two incredible WWOOFing opportunities. One northern in Utah at a Hare Krishna Temple and another in southern Oregon at a care farm. My spontaneous adventure had gotten locked in as I worked my schedule around these opportunities. I soon had an itinerary after talking with a facebook friend who I studied with in Australia who had since been giving tours of the country every summer. Now that I had more concrete plans, I felt more confident telling relatives and acquaintances about my road trip.

III.

It was either my new found confidence and optimism from dating and planning, just plain luck, karma, or a flirtatious combination of all the above that set me up in contact with several lovely women. The first was a beautiful blonde who contacted me first. I’m bashful to admit that her references to Pokemon (and interest in vegan donuts) caught my attention. I’m not normally attracted to blondes, but she was cute as a button. We romanced each other over a game of Mario Kart and participated in a victory dance in her bedroom. Afterwards, we cuddled, giddily smiling. Unlike previous dates, I felt something. I did not feel alienated, but connected. There was mutual affection. It was really great. It was what I think I was looking for: emotional and sexual intimacy.

On the next date, however, there was no sexual fruition. I wanted to assume she felt sick from the food and wasn’t interested, but she said she felt fine. After she kissed me goodnight, I felt empty. I thought I had found another person to share intimacy with, but I hadn’t. I felt rejected, but not like the previous times which I accepted relatively easily. I felt like a failure and the fear grew within me that it would be another year or longer until I found another person like my last two exes. I went back onto OK Cupid and looked for other people to meet, one of which was the girl I “fell in love” with. That same week, I was contacted by a woman from the Southeast and got an invitation from someone I had messaged in Arcata, California to spend the day together. I spoke with both over the phone, and each I had a great conversation with. The magnitude of positive attention I had in this one week made me feel accomplished and helped me rebound from my sadness over what I saw as rejection from the blonde gamer.

Actually, I eventually went out with her again several times and we developed greater intimacy. I thought she was being aloof the entire time, but as I reflected on my past relationships, I realized that perhaps it a response to my own aloofness. Was I guarded as much as they were? I was being more private because of my concerns with web privacy and the violation of my social space by my ex in the Fall, but there was something more. I became more conscious that I did not give many compliments. I did not give much at all. And I was just as reserved at times towards receiving. I was suspicious of both ends. Each exposing my vulnerability in different ways. In each I exposed myself as interested and opened myself to either rejection and/or dependency. So I gave her compliments, telling her how I felt about her the whole time. Unfortunately, I was to anxious to do just that, and prefaced them with “I don’t usually give compliments” and end noted “, but that’s not so much a compliment but a fact.” I’m quite the neurotic! Even still, the night ended happily.

IV.

So what lessons did I learn from all this?

First, to capitalize off my positive traits. I could tone down my innate cuteness, eccentricity, and nerdiness, but I ended up dating people who I did not connect with and care much for.If I were to achieve sexual and emotional intimacy, I had to feel comfortable with myself, and I could only do this by having confidence in myself and my innate attractiveness.

Second, to admit I want intimacy. I often find myself between the polyamorous queerisity of some of my friends and vanilla hetero-monogamy of others.  It’s ridiculous that i should feel pressure to be at either end of those spectrum.  I don’t like putting limits on my sexuality and on the number of people I can love, but I also am not turned on by strapping a stranger down to a table and beating them. I want intimacy without a quota. And I don’t have to be  radically queer to be radical or have great sex.

Third, to be direct and honest. I’ve missed out on so many sexual invitations and opportunities because of a sense of futility or a fear of losing a friend. In the long term, I would discover that picking up on an opportunity was far from futile and that my potential friendship with that person was far from secure. By speculating about a future and calculating an approach out of anxiety from acting in the present, I denied beauty from my life. Recently, I’ve discovered how powerful it can for both parties to be to be direct about how you feel about one another, why you are attracted to them, and what you’d like from them. I’ve “fallen” for people who have done that to me, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it works the other way around too.

Fourth, to assert my sexuality. When I was younger, I’d come off creepy because I would be sexually assertive without confidence and sensuality. I became embarrassed of my strong sexuality and afraid of acting on it because of how others may be affected and how I would judge myself. I assumed it was a default intrusion rather than a gift. Now I was discovering, beginning with a cute chicana that I dated after the breakup, how spellbinding my flirtation could be. A writer-sorcerer, I had a away with words. They crawled off my tongue, skipped from my lips, tickled the back of her ear, crept under the skin of her neck, and slid between her thighs. When I paused, I could hear her silent response.

Fifth, to be the top. This may contradict the first lesson I learned, but it is an extension of the last two. I’d describe myself more as a switch. I get turned on more when someone is very expressive and I feel more when I’m able to slip out of consciousness through transcending thought. I am also a heteroflexible feminist and value gender equality. What (generalization) I’ve discovered is that most (or at least many) rad feminists like their partner to be the top, probably for the very same reasons I do! Women are often very self-conscious about their positive body image, pleasing their partner, and getting-off that they aren’t able to do all these things simultaneously. But there is possibly also a gendered component of wanting to be wanted (which I’m subjected to also, by the way). By minimizing my gender privilege (self)confidence during sex, the act becomes more intimate and fluid for all parties, as it allows me to fully unleash the sexual animal inside without guilt and not overanalyze desire.

Sixth, to date vegetarians. This lesson may seem superficial, but I have never had great sex with a non-vegetarian. I don’t know why. It could be because I feel more intimacy with someone who doesn’t support interspecies injustices. Or perhaps vegetarians are more intimate with me for the same reason. Bias or just a coincidence from a smaller sample size, I’ll probably not be making a rule out of this anytime soon, but it’s fun to think about.

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