Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Plus ça c'est différent

Companion piece to the previous entry.

Looking back at myself in 1999 versus me many ways I have not changed. Most of my core values remain intact; in fact, most of them have strengthened over time.

But many things have changed.

Let's start with the outermost, most irrelevant layer of me. I haven't physically aged much...look at a picture of me from twenty years ago and I'm instantly identifiable. The glasses don't crush my nose anymore (they've also almost tripled in price), and I have made a conscious decision to lose most of the hair on my head and keep it lost. Three reasons for that last:

1) Comfort, especially in summer;
2) Appearance. My hair grows in remarkably thick and curl-tangly on the back of my head, and in the manner of most forty-mumble males of my species, it absolutely refuses to grow in a widening patch on the top of my head. Unattended to, that makes me look like a slice of prime grade-A doofus.
3) Laziness. Let's face it, getting out of the shower with a dry head is a lovely thing.

I've got dozens of scars I didn't have in 1999 and I can't point to a single one of them and tell you how I got it. Random cuts and scrapes come standard in a stock boy's career. I've also got two tattoos and plan to eventually get at least two more. That's not something I could have predicted before I met Eva, because tattoos were obviously for criminals and "low" people. So spake my mother (who softened her stance so much over time that she herself got inked, eventually).

This blog is going to be a paean to Eva, and eventually to Kathy, because my partners have done a great deal either changing me for the better, or, more often, simply sitting back and allowing me to change myself.

Part of my first date with Eva involved a trip to Value Village. I still remember the almost overwhelming fear I had opening that door, the fear that I would contract a dread disease. Maybe more than one. I mean, I knew that all the clothes in there came from dead people. I don't know where this piece of information came from (probably Mom again), but I believed it with my whole heart. I figured they washed the stuff, but who knows what germs persisted?
I could guard against that by not touching anything. My mom had drilled that into me the few times she'd allow us to be seen at a flea market: DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING. But that wouldn't protect me from the disease I'd already caught just by being in this parking lot, the very same disease my mom was terrified of in the flea market: STAGE TWO POVERTY.

Stage one poverty is regrettably widespread. It's called BEING POOR. It's hard to cure, but it can be treated. The course of treatment mostly involves staying away from places like Value Village, flea markets, and "the bad side of town" generally. That way you could at least hope to avoid a progression into stage two.

Stage two poverty was ever so much worse, according to my mother: LOOKING POOR. That was fatal: you'd die of shame.
There were certain actions you could take to avoid Stage Two, besides staying away from the cesspools where it festered: don't be seen eating bread crusts was one I particularly recall. But sometimes the poverty would advance to stage two despite your best efforts and you'd find yourself moving from a semi-detached house--itself iffy enough, since "detached house with white picket fence" is the ideal--to a, horror of horrors, TOWNHOUSE.

Are you starting to get an idea of the kind of acute snobbishness that underlaid my lower middle class/upper working class upbringing? I could feel the poverty-boils just itching to break out all over me as I started to walk into Value Village. There were green and throbbing juicily and everyone was going to SEE THEM and point at me and laugh and snicker and look pitying.

I tried my best to cloak this, but of course Eva saw through it. And did something for the first time that I would come to realize she's expert at: flipping the script.

Yes, poor people shop in here, she said. So do very rich people.
I goggled: this was unpossible according to my brain as it was then wired.
Rich people get rich and stay rich by not spending money it isn't necessary to spend, she said, and we walked out with $44 of stuff that would have cost easily five times that elsewhere. Mental geography shifted.
She also torpedoed my illusion that all the clothing came off dead people just by motioning her arms over the racks and racks of clothing and asking me just how many dead people do you think there are, anyway?

I still don't like the smell in there, to be honest. And there are still things I'd rather buy new -- not out of concerns of stage two poverty, but just so that I know the history of the item I'm buying. But there are many things I'll gladly thrift for.

That script-flipping, that reframing, I've seen Eva do countless times, and every time she does it she opens up a world of unconsidered perspectives to me. It still happens today. She can defend any side of any issue either passionately or dispassionately, so much so that it can be utterly impossible to discern what she believes herself. Rare, rare talent that is. I'd love to say she's gifted me with it. She hasn't; but she certainly has taught me that there are many sides to many issues and 'my' side isn't the only valid one.

These teachings have been invaluable to me. They're endlessly versatile because they help me think around corners, reduce drama, and center conversations and people so much better than I otherwise could.  Certainly better than I did before my wife came into my life.

Eva was the first person in my life to make me feel safe and loved just as I am. That is to say, she was the first partner of mine who loved me unconditionally. That has been tremendously liberating and securing at once. The ability to live authentic to my true self is the best gift of the many she has given me.  The walking mass of nervous tics she first met gradually subsided. I wouldn't say I came to feel confident, but I did come to feel comfortable, and that, believe me, is a minor miracle.

Eva's elements are water and earth. Water because she is deep, with many currents not readily apparent from a surface view; also because she is nourishing, endlessly patient and incredibly powerful. She has an affinity for water...looking at it and especially swimming in it.

Some came to conquer
Some came to understand
Some came to live their lives as best they can
Me, I looked up at the stars to find my way
But I was young and I got them mixed up
And so forgot my name
As I tried to remember you were standing next to me
While others came seeking power
You, you had come to set them free

-- Johnny Clegg and  Savuka - "Rolling Ocean"

Earth because...well, she even calls herself an earth mother. She's the most grounded person I have ever met. That is all the more amazing when you consider her anxiety--which, come to think of it, is her water-self turning against her earth-self and eroding stability out from underneath her. That's when Mark and I step in, supporting her and carrying her to solid ground again.

But somehow, even when anxious, she grounds everything and everyone around her. Especially me.

That grounding has worked wonders in my life. It has allowed me to "be here, now"...which is not something I was any good at before Eva. I used to escape my present at every opportunity, usually into an idealized past. But Eva is a present that keeps on giving.  I love her so much for who she is and who I am with her.

And Eva's presence in my life made me reconsider polyamory.

If you look back at selected blogs in the early history of the Breadbin, you'll see I referred to polyamory as "personal communism" more than once. Lovely on paper, but it turns ugly in practice. I'd made this determination in the wake of exactly one polyamorous relationship gone bad, and its going bad was entirely my fault.  It turns out I had only to meet the right person: a woman with an oversized heart and a vision of love that matched, in some ways exceeded, my own. We talked about opening our relationship early on, certainly well before we married. It was put on the back burner as we built the marriage, brought up at infrequent intervals with zero pressure on either of us.

It was always my intent that Eva go first, if and when she was ready. Bariatric surgery gave her a huge confidence boost and the second man she dated was Mark. The second woman I dated was Kathy.

Which brings me to what Kathy has effected in my life.

Kathy's elements, perhaps predictably, are air and fire. Air because she is as invigorating and refreshing, with an easy, breezy smile, and because she provides lift for the pair of wings I sprouted upon meeting her. Fire because she is passionate, intense and she will burn you when she's out of control. She has an affinity for fire...everything from campfires to volcanoes. When her air feeds her out. That's when I use a combination of my own water and earth, never to douse her flame, but to contain it and redirect it if I can.

It's as hard to articulate as it is to understate the effect of Kathy on me. I feel lighter. as if I can fly.  I feel energized. Her unpredictable fiery nature is exhilarating to me, and she's given me a flame of my own. It manifests as assertiveness and confidence, both things that have been a struggle for me.

If these words sound like those of a man in love, guilty as charged. If they sound fleeting and don't know me.

"Close your eyes
Give me your hand
Can't you feel my heart beating,
Do you understand?
Do you feel the same?
Am I only dreaming?
Is this burning an eternal flame?"
--The Bangles

I love her so much for who she is and who I am with her.

A final thing that has changed radically since 1999 is my politics. Back then, I was a conservative, if not always Conservative, voter. Reading old blogs, again from early in this Breadbin's existence, I wince and sometimes outright cringe at some of what I said. Mostly, it came from a lack of empathy for people and situations I did not understand....which is again something that Eva in particular has provided in large quantities. I moved steadily more and more liberal as time went on, and have only recently realized that I'm in danger of moving so far left I can no longer see the right. That's dangerous, no matter what the issue: without fully understanding how someone sees the world, I can't find common ground with them. And in this day and age when nearly everyone has retreated into one thought-bunker or another, finding common ground is absolutely essential. Work to center myself is ongoing. Expect future blogs to, for instance, examine the mindset of my ideological opponents in search of ways to connect to them. I expect some pushback from people who think I'm deserting them for the Dark Side (I'm not)...and I'll deal with that if and when it arrives.

I wonder what I'll be like in the year 2037. Time will tell.

No comments: