Dear Moorea

You entered this world during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the joy you brought to our lives outshone all chaos. Despite everything around us shutting down, your growth reminded us to trust in the miracle of life. We saw your microscopic heart beating on its own at six weeks, your hand caressing your face at 10 weeks, and you yawning at 20 weeks. I first felt you flutter in me on March 3rd. I vow to remind you of the magic that continues to work despite the world sometimes feeling out of our control.

On Sunday, November 24, 2019, we discovered we would be your parents. That night we celebrated in downtown Boulder where the holiday lights were being turned on for the season. Pepper was excited by the news too! We began reading to you almost every night. Pepper practiced too!

On my 42nd birthday, February 11th, we announced the news publicly (which was also the day that the WHO named the virus COVID-19). Your birth announcement even made the UK news in the Daily Mail!

We loved watching you grow for nine months. I went from 118 to 146.5 pounds by the time you were born! The first pic in slideshow below was February 19th when I started to show.

For the last month before your birth I had check-ups twice a week to make sure you were healthy. Dad and I loved listening to your heartbeat and sometimes we called your grandparents and Great Grandma Nancy, so they too could hear it. Dad took time off work just so he could come hear your heart beat. We took walks around our neighborhood with your big sister Pepper to practice strolling with a baby. Grammy and Grampie came out to visit two weeks before your due date and stayed another two more after you arrived. We went on hikes together and worked on getting your room ready.

About a week before your arrival I got acupuncture to encourage your arrival. On the night before your due date, dad and I ate spicy Thai food (green curry for me) with Grammy and Grampie.

A four-year-old neighbor girl named Jaden came by with a card and a giant peacock feather for good luck. A psychic from Utah I interviewed for a story had told me that anytime I saw a feather it was a sign of your great-grandma Velda’s presence. Jaden said she wanted to name you Luna Petunia and she was ready to babysit anytime we needed a date night.

On the morning of your due date (Monday, August 3, 2020) I took a long hike up Mount Sanitas in hopes all the bumps and sways would encourage you to arrive. I had tried all kinds of tricks to encourage you to come in your own: acupuncture, raspberry leaf tea, spicy food, black currant gel pills. I went to the doctor’s office in the afternoon to have a COVID-19 test (since I was a scheduled induction, I had to be tested) and your amniotic fluid checked. The nurses told me your “pockets” looked good!


On the night you were due, we went fly fishing at the site of our wedding. Grampie gave tips to dad and me. I thought it was an appropriate place to be on the eve you were to be born—a little fish set free. That evening there was a full moon called a sturgeon moon named after the mighty fish. In the middle of the night I started feeling mild labor cramps.

The next day, August 4th, was my induction date and also Grammy and Grampie’s 47th anniversary. I took us for our last swim together at Spruce Pool. We celebrated their anniversary with flowers and cake and finished readying the house for Grampie to stay with Pepper, your big “sister.” Grammy, Grampie, Dad, and I gathered around holding hands while Grammy prayed for your safe delivery.

When I called the hospital to make sure they had a bed available (even though I had an appointment scheduled for 7pm) the nurse said they were pretty booked but I could come in and wait. She asked me, “Is your cervix favorable?” to which I answered, “How on earth do you know if your cervix is favorable??” After a bit further discussion, she encouraged me to come in anyways and said they’d find room. Dad and I left for the hospital around 9pm and by 11:30pm they’d started giving me a small white pill called Cytotec to “ripen my cervix.”  I was only 1cm dilated before taking the medication.

The doctor on call said two things I won’t forget when I told her I was concerned that I had come in too early and should’ve waited for my body to work on its own without intervention. She said she was in her early 40’s when she gave birth to her son and she had a c-section scheduled ahead of time. She also said, “We’d have a lot more c-sections these days if it weren’t for Pitocin.” I was restless that night and totally uncomfortable trying to sleep in the hospital bed. They’d hooked me up to an IV of antibiotics in case my labor started and you came surprisingly quickly. They didn’t want you to contract any yucky bacteria I had.

I was torn between waiting for you to “come all on your own” and listening to what the medical community kept telling me: “Women your age, no matter how healthy they are, are at risk for a stillbirth. The longer you wait the bigger chance you have of having a c-section.”  But, so many other people told me, “Your body knows. Trust your body to do its job,” and one nurse told me her daughter “came when she was ready.” This reminded me when I was afraid that morphine took away your great grandma Velda’s ability to die when she was “ready” and feared that the morphine sped up the process before she was ready to let go. I wanted to have a “natural” birth like those women I’d watched on videos laboring in a bath of water in their own home until they pulled their baby out of their vagina all on their own.

By morning (Wednesday, August 5, 2020), I’d had a total of three tablets of Cytotec broken up over several doses given to me throughout the night. I was disappointed when they checked and found I was only 1cm dilated still (although the cervix had thinned out some). My labor contractions still felt like menstrual cramps, but they were more frequent and stronger. I was told I could eat lunch and when I asked the doctor what would be ok, she said, whatever you don’t mind tasting again.

Around 2pm the doctor who I had been seeing periodically during my pregnancy took over and began the next step to try to encourage labor. She inserted a foley bulb, what looks like a deflated balloon, to sit right on top of my cervix. She then filled it with fluid. She suggested to the nurse to add Pitocin, but I said let’s wait and see how things progress first. I began contracting every 2-3 min, laboring on a fit ball while sucking on popsicles and in tub with electric candles. Meanwhile your father sent updates to friends and family and looked for a job that would afford him more time to be with you once you were born.

Around 4:30pm the “balloon” fell out! It felt like a success since I was told it could take 5-6 hours. But my excitement was a bit premature. I was only dilated 3cm. I continued to labor until pacing the hallway, swaying on the ball and dancing with dad in his arms until the doctor suggested we break your water.

Around 8pm she used what looked like a long plastic crochet needle to puncture your sac. I imagined there would be gush of water, but it was only a trickle. Was there something wrong, I asked. She said you might be positioned close to the hole she’d pricked and thus blocking the “gush.” 

Contractions got stronger and that lunch revisited us at 9pm when I threw up three times. The nurse had given us green puke bags that looked like they were meant to fit a small town newspaper. Dad wisely grabbed the trashcan. In between vomiting in our now dark room, your father and I made shadow puppets on the wall and danced (which looked more like me hanging on him to hold me up as we swayed).

At one point, while I vomited, a tech came into the room to access stuff in the closet. “I’m Zeeshan,” he said. “I’m here to get the room ready for delivery.” I again became prematurely excited. Was I closer than I thought? Did Zeeshan know something I didn’t know? Zeeshan was the name of my senior year homecoming and prom date—a friend and cross country teammate. How many Zeeshan’s could there possibly be?

I moved back to the tub to labor for about an hour. I was then only dilated to 5 (“Maybe 5.5,” my doctor added to make me feel better, I think). “I don’t think we are getting a baby without a little Pitocin,” she said.

Ugh! I had been warned of this drug, a synthetic version of oxytocin. I had been told it made contractions much stronger than the body was prepared to handle. I’d also had friends say it did very little for them. At that point, my contractions were still coming every 2 minutes and strong enough I couldn’t pace the hallway anymore. I was going on 48 hours of virtually no quality sleep. I was worried my body had stalled out and I wanted to keep things progressing (for both of us). The doctor’s voice echoed in our heads, “There’d be a lot more C-sections these days without Pitocin.” Not that there’s anything wrong with C-sections. I just wanted to give you the best chance possible to come vaginally. While I was laboring those evening hours, unbeknownst to me, dad had been reading up on what happens if you wait “too long” for a female body to respond after induction measures. We’d tried a tiny pill, a mechanical technique, and a physical action. If we sat too long in the current state, it put both you and I at higher risk.

I agreed to start a Pitocin drip at 10pm while laboring in the tub, but I requested to be put on the lowest dose possible. Contractions got stronger and quicker. They were coming about every minute to 90 seconds allowing me very little recovery time. Every time one came, I squeezed dad’s hand and moaned through the wave of pain. The sound that came from me was one I’d never made before, and I’d only heard in movies in which someone was being tortured.  I needed a goal. I’d wait for an hour and then have my cervix checked. I decided if I hadn’t progressed much in dilation, I’d ask for the epidural. Dad put himself in a place of non-emotion; he couldn’t have been supportive, otherwise. He didn’t want me to focus on his discomfort and feel obligated to support or soothe him, he later told me.

Around 45 minutes into the Pitocin, I asked the nurse if the amount could be lowered. She said she could drop it from 2 to 1. I expressed my anger in not being put on 1 to begin with when I asked for the lowest dose possible. I lasted about another 20-30 minutes at the lowest dose until I’d made up my mind to get the epidural (even before getting checked). I recalled two of my close female friends who I consider tough and talented runners. They’d both said, sometimes female runners have a harder time relaxing their pelvic floors. The epidural helped both friends dilate faster. One of those women had said, “You’ll know when you’ve met your limit.” I also remembered other friends telling me, “Just when you feel like you can’t go any further, you turn the corner and grow closer to delivery.” I didn’t see any corners to turn and I felt like I had met my limit.

Little did I know that Dad had been watching your heart rate monitor and grew alarmed when he saw it spilling into 170’s (a number we’d see you reach while crying many months later). At one point he had gone to tell the nurse he thought she should call for the epidural: “Please put the anesthesiologist on call so he can be ready AS SOON as Amanda says go.” It was only several days after your birth that he told me he’d advocated for both of us who struggled to communicate at that point.

The anesthesiologist had already been called into another birthing room so it would be about 30 minutes before he could help me, the nurse said. I got out of the tub for another cervical check. I was only dilated 6.5, and so I demanded more emphatically for the epidural. My savior arrived around 11:45 with the epidural. I sat on the bed and leaned forward into Dad’s arms who held me steady. At his first attempt to insert the needle into my spine, I jerked in between contractions. “Hold her steady,” the doctor firmly told Dad. The second attempt he nailed it. “I wish you a preemptive congratulations!” he said as he parted the room. I felt a wave of hope knowing someone else confidently anticipated your birth.

Because my pain was so advanced, it took about 45 minutes before the epidural numbed 95% of the pain. I lay in the bed continuing to squeeze dad’s hands through each contraction that rocked my body.

By 1:00 in the morning, things had calmed down enough I could rest calmly. A new nurse came into check on me. “I just want to do something right,” I told her. She turned down the monitor so I could sleep, but 15 minutes later I called her back in to turn it back up so I could pay attention to your heartbeat. I didn’t trust the nurses. I wanted to know you were resting easy at your usual steady heart rate of 130.  Dad was lounging on the couch in the room (barely sleeping) and I remember wishing more than ever that he could lie with me in bed.

Around 2am another cervical check revealed I’d dilated to 9.5. Allowing my body to marinate in the contractions had helped it open up without my pelvic floor muscles’ natural instinct to resist (thanks to 28 years of long distance running). The nurse propped my body up on a kidney bean-shaped pillow which, she said, would encourage you to drop into place. The nurses then let me rest til 4am and then it was time to start pushing. On the table to my right rested the string of beads from over 40 friends and my book of encouraging notes from those women. Also on that table sat the stuffed dog I’d given your great grandma Velda in the hospital.

The main nurse returned and instructed Dad to hold my left leg (the one with the labral tear in the hip) while she held my right leg. I guess she wanted to make him responsible should something happen. “Take a deep breath in, then hold it and push,” she instructed. “Are you sure I should hold my breath?” I asked her. “That’s how my mom burst a blood vessel in her brain while giving birth to me.” She assured me I was fine. In retrospect, I would have asked the doctor several weeks before my induction for proper pushing guidance in light of my mother’s experience. After only three rounds of three pushes (push, relax, push, relax, push, relax), the nurse said, “Stop! She’s here. I’m going to get the doctor.”

Dad handed me your great grandma Velda’s lipstick case and I applied the ruby red color to my lips. One of the nurses volunteered to take pics when I expressed wanting Dave to have his hands free and be present to the birth (he didn’t want to watch you exiting the birth canal because he said he was afraid he would pass out watching the blood). The last thing I thought I’d be doing before giving birth is changing the security settings on my phone, so the password didn’t block a user. The nurses set up a mirror so I could see your head crowning.

My doctor came in to guide me through the final act. After only three more rounds of pushing (about 20 minutes), the doctor said, “Stop!” You were coming out quickly and the doctor noticed that the umbilical cord was wrapped around your neck and body. Then I was instructed to give one last little push.

You entered our collective world at 4:42am on Thursday, August 6, 2020, all 6 pounds 3.5 ounces of your beautiful body. You came out face down and were quiet for the first couple minutes before you let out a little cry. The nurses immediately placed you on my chest and you then army crawled your way to my breast for your first meal.

I didn’t cry. I just held you in awe. My first thoughts were: “Of course, it’s you! I know you.” Dad was grinning ear to ear gazing at you like the tiny miracle that you were—like he’d witnessed a supernatural event.

For a few minutes you were both outside of me but still attached to me. The umbilical cord looked like a long candy cane where the red pulsated brightly against the contrasting white. Dad cut your cord. He says it was like cutting through a tough piece of meat.

The nurse and doctors “mashed” (nurses’ word not mine) on my tummy until our placenta and your amniotic sac spilled out. When we were asked if we wanted to keep it, I said, “Of course!” I wasn’t sure what we’d do with it but also was not willing to let it go.

After an hour or so of recovery, the nurses moved me from the birthing bed to the wheelchair to move us out of the delivery room with you in my arms. My legs were still numb from the epidural. I earned my first gold star as a parent that morning when I sensed I was going to pass out and insisted on passing you off to a nurse.  Within seconds of handing you over, I slumped over in the chair. With a whiff of some alcohol swabs, I quickly woke up.

That morning you puked and pooped dark blood and we were told it was simply you processing the amniotic fluid you’d ingested—remnants of your past life.  Later that day I felt the most soreness in my throat from howling so loudly during labor, but I was surprised by how good my body felt (and continued to feel). Dad and I pulled the emergency red cord in the bathroom that afternoon because we thought you were struggling to breathe (this would be an ongoing fear for the first three months of your life). Three nurses rushed in, checked you out, and reassured us you were just fine. One of them patted you on your back and said, “Just make her cry. Then you’ll know she’s breathing.” Easier said than done.

That first night I felt so guilty for inducing labor to encourage your entrance into this world. I wanted to put you back in my belly. You seemed too vulnerable for this cold, dry, noisy environment where nurses came in while you were sleeping to poke and prick you. But the nurses taught us how to feed you, swaddle you, and burp and bathe your tiny body.

We stayed in the hospital for two more nights before coming home on Saturday morning. That morning before leaving, we could smell campfire in our hospital room. The Cameron Peak fire was burning in the mountains and there was ash falling from the sky. Grammy and Grampie were so excited to hold you and Pepper was first to sniff you.

A few days after your birth, Grammy and I made artwork with your placenta while dad rested on the couch (he doesn’t like to see blood and guts). Many people came to the porch (wearing masks) to see you and deliver meals. There were a steady stream of packages on our doorstep welcoming your arrival.

Moorea, you are named after a heart-shaped island in one of the most beautiful places your father and I have visited on earth. Our hope is that you always outshine evil and ruin and that you listen to and stay connected with your heart.

Birth Announcement: Delayed Delivery til 2021

Disclaimer: The following is a short satire weaving together a few scientific facts (medical and animal) and some ridiculous ideas. I wrote it to bring levity to the stress of delivering a child during a pandemic.

Dear Friends, Due to the myriad of unfortunate events occurring during 2020, we have decided to not only postpone our wedding this summer, but also the birth of our child (currently due tomorrow, August 3rd) until February 2nd, 2021. By then, the child will likely be born once there is a vaccine for COVID-19, racial justice will be met and Trump will be dethroned. All will most certainly be in better order than we find it in 2020.

Since giraffes, with a 400-460 day-gestational period, give birth while standing up, baby giraffes have to be big enough to withstand the five-foot fall. After a mere ten hours, these quick learners are ready to run alongside their parents. We intend the same for our wee one. We want our child powerful enough to withstand the dangers and pressures of this current cruel world and ready to hit the ground running.  

Our child will be stronger and have an edge over her peers when she enters kindergarten. After all, science shows that babies with extended gestational rates are more neurologically advanced. Why wouldn’t they be? Consider the elephant which has the longest gestational period (18-22 months) of any land animal and the largest brain! 

I’m beginning to take hibernation injections spun from the DNA of bears and saliva of gila monsters. Under this treatment, both the baby and I will be able to slow aging. Daily I’m applying viscoelastic cream to help my delicate skin expand without leaving atrocious stretchmarks. The cream was developed when a Hollywood-based dermatologist teamed up with an Alaskan taxidermist specializing in stretching moose hide. The doctors will sew my cervix closed to ensure evacuation does not accidentally occur and prescribe me a steady diet of tocolytic drugs to slow uterine contractions.   

I have scheduled a C-section to pull the predicted 20-pound infant from my womb without tearing my delicate perineum. This six-month pregnancy extension will also allow us to skip half a year of environmentally harmful products, including the estimated 1,500 disposable diapers and wipes.

To prevent my engorged breasts from sagging over the extended gestational period, I will nurse the local farms’ orphaned piglets like the women in the highlands of New Guinea have done for centuries. Why not share when my cups runneth over? They don’t call me “Stackin’ McCracken” for nothing.

You can follow our documented journey on Instagram at @2021orbust 

 

Turquoise Syndrome

The following poem was written in response to the people, places, creatures, and legends I encountered in the Exuma cays in April 2017.

Turquoise Syndrome

Where voltage runs high and clocks run faster

Where bait is debatable, exchangeable, and expendable

Where women cast themselves on the men who troll

Where the unbreakable slender casuarina burns breathlessly

Where fidelity flows with the tides and ripples go unnoticed

Where people wait in liminal pools and drown in beauty

Where the most buoyant waters can’t keep a heavy heart afloat

Where sharks drink the blood of virgins and pigs eat the flesh of corpses

Where frozen mermaids play hollow Keatsian chords

Where fishing lines tangle and bound hair is cut free from garnets

Where sisters fruitlessly chase elusive captains

Where 100 unknown lovers’ presence laps the shore

Where we don’t keep count until we lose track

Where fences divide but hide nothing and docks bridge distance

Where possession is sought in place of permission

Where we uncontrollably rise and fall as unreachable islands

Where depth shifts and seductively slips through fingers

Where letting go means sinking sans savior

Where lips nibble salty necks and sacred dreams are swallowed

Where being inhaled means you too will be exhaled

Where turquoise seeps into crevices of an unwringable memory

Where the ravished conch whispers a lulling call to return

What is “real”?

What is real?” the Velveteen Rabbit asked the Skin Horse.

“…It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time…By the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and are very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all because once you are real, you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.”

velveteen rabbitThis quote reminds me of my massage clients with Alzheimer’s. They are still very real people with a real sense of humor even though people don’t treat them as such. I see people talk right through them. Just the other day I joked with two of the men. “Jim really likes ladies’ knees,” I told Bill as I was massaging his shoulders. Jim, who has been at the Alzheimer’s center for at least 7 years and seems to have plateaued, sat in the chair near us looking straight ahead as if he hadn’t heard a thing. “Can you believe he even took a bite right out of my knee?!” I said as I pointed to the nasty healing scab on the top of my knee (from a trail fall). Jim turned and looked right at us and asked straight-faced, “How do you think I lost this tooth?” A sly smile spread across Jim’s face. We all laughed a real laugh.
Often when I massaged Debra (who has now passed away) I’d play a CD that included Dean Martin singing “You belong to me”. Every time he sang the line, “See the pyramids along the Nile…” her memory was triggered (or so I thought) and she’d tell me about the time she and her husband sailed down the Nile. I later learned that neither she nor her husband ever stepped foot in Egypt. Debra sure had me fooled—and herself as well. And yet, that vision/experience was so real to her she would recount that story every time Dean sang those lyrics.

This last May a writer for the anti-feminist site “A Voice for Men” wrote a scathing essay entitled, “Amanda McCracken: virgin, chameleon or just plain phoney”. I unfortunately (or fortunately) stumbled upon it in July and felt physically sick after reading only a few paragraphs and comments. In the essay Mr. Jim Muldoon picked apart essays I’ve written regarding my virginity, and he single-handedly declared that all of my claims were false except one—“The only thing I would buy is her claim to be a feminist, because she certainly is an Adept of The Sacred Babble. Everything else requires verification from an independent source.”
I’ve had some very intriguing conversations with my lesbian friends about whether penile penetration defines virginity. And Mr. Muldoon can question my virginity status until he’s blue-balled in the face. Only I know myself. But what rattled me most was him claiming I wasn’t a real writer.

Artists of all sorts (painters, writers, actors, musicians) wrestle with their own self-doubts to firmly own their identity as an artist. Perhaps it’s because we live in a society that doesn’t put on a monetary value on an artist’s profession. In all the materials I’ve received from career counselors, I don’t ever recall seeing a list of career related salaries that included artist or writer or musician. While there is great support among a community of artists, there is also competition artists feel to both stay afloat and rise to the top. You never hear one doctor insult another in saying, “He/she isn’t a real doctor.” There are no state boards or tests to pass to certify you as an honest to goodness writer.
From several angles, Truman Capote’s story Breakfast at Tiffany’s addresses the theme of authenticity. The validity of the main characters’ identities are questioned by both themselves and others.
After breaking into his apartment to escape a “terrifying man downstairs” (the movie clip starts at 2:25), Holly asks her new upstairs neighbor, “What do you do, anyway?”

Paul responds, “I’m a writer, I guess.”

“You guess? Don’t you know?”

Attempting to sounds a bit more confident Paul says, “OK, positive statement. Ringing affirmative. I’m a writer.”

Holly presses, “Tell me, are you a real writer?”

Paul asks, “It depends on what you mean by real.”

“Well, darling, does anyone buy what you write?” asked Holly.

b and f breakdownIn another scene Hollywood agent OJ Bergman (2:45 in this clip) asks Holly’s upstairs neighbor Paul, “What do you think: Is she or ain’t she?….A phony?”

Paul responds, “I wouldn’t have thought so.”

Revealing he knows about Holly’s secret small-town history, OJ corrects Paul, “You’re wrong. She is a phony. But on the other hand you’re right. She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes.” (text from Capote’s book)

Are we all just real phonies defending ourselves against the OJ Bergman’s of the world?

One Wednesday afternoon cross country meet my freshman year in high school, I ran faster than “Joe Thompson”. His defensive response has stuck with me for 23 years. In defense of being beat by a girl, Joe’s response to me was, “You must not be a real woman.” I should’ve responded with, “Well, then, you must not be a real man.” Of course, hind sight is 20-20. Instead, I shut down. It would take SEVEN years before I’d run faster than I did that random Wednesday in 1992.

Insulting another’s identity is such a cowardly way to defend yourself. I was always that student who tried to argue back the points I felt I deserved when marked wrong on a test. Sometimes I won, sometimes I lost. But only one time was I embarrassed for challenging the teacher.

On a “Fact or Opinion” question section of a test in my AP History, I tried to argue that, because of the word “might,” the statement was a fact, “JFK’s death might have been a conspiracy.” The correct answer was “opinion”. The teacher, a very popular varsity baseball coach, responded: “Ok. Fact or opinion? Amanda McCracken might be the biggest slut in Fairfield High School.” There was no doubt in any of my classmates’ minds that this was a false statement—but I didn’t defend myself.

A family member once suggested (in an attempt to understand where I was coming from) that I couldn’t call myself a real Christian if I claim that my reason for remaining abstinent is not because of Jesus. I had never thought of it that way. I thought my decision of when and with whom to have sex wasn’t inextricably linked to my identity as a Christian.How many and which boxes do you have to check to be considered a “real” Christian? Do you have to be “practicing” and what does that mean?

I find myself always qualifying my home ownership in Boulder with, “Well, I feel I should admit that I purchased it through the affordable housing program.” I don’t want to misrepresent myself. But I do own a home in Boulder. And if it were placed on the open market, it would sell for almost double its purchasing price. Shouldn’t I own the title homeowner?

Many of us in Boulder have imposter syndrome. We work with, share fences with, and train alongside many world class athletes. It’s hard to claim we are a real runner, triathlete, cyclist or climber. My running coach Steve Jones set the marathon world record (2:08:05) in Chicago in 1984. A self-proclaimed “journeyman runner”, Jones came to the sport with an iron will and very little money in his pockets. His accomplishments in many ways paved the way for the popularity of the sport. However, his comments were recently the target of an online debate over what it means to be a real marathoner. In an interview with Competitor Magazine editor Brian Metzler, Jones said, “I don’t believe that starting and finishing a marathon makes you a marathoner. I don’t believe that. If you’re racing it to go as fast as you can, that’s completely different than being part of an event and just wanting to get from point A to point B.”

I understood why people were enraged. But I also roughly understood where he was coming from. I say “roughly” because, unlike my coach, I will never come close to setting any world record.)  Having been both a runner simply happy to complete a marathon and a runner driven to break 3:00 (which I’m yet to do), I too believe there’s a difference.

There’s a writer I see more frequently FB posting pictures of her/his trail running adventures and writing about them for big magazines. I often curse out loud when I see these posts. I hear myself saying, “Who does s/he think s/he is calling her/himself a trail runner, when I’ve been doing it since I was 14?!” And then I step off my high horse and remind myself nobody really owns the patent on what makes a real trail runner. I think my judge-bug takes over because I feel somehow her/his claiming an identity I claim cheapens my uniqueness.  Or as my coach said, “It devalued it.”

And yet, our culture encourages us to recreate ourselves, write/live our own story, be whoever we feel like being, etc. This message butts heads with the “Be authentic” message. What’s wrong with recreating yourself? Why is there backlash? Perhaps it’s because we become jealous we aren’t doing the same for ourselves. We feel threatened.

Enter Halloween costume choices and judgements. Fortunately, there’s the occasional: “That’s so you!” or “That has your name written all over it.” But what we usually wrestle with is the question, “Can I pull that off?” We actually worry people will think we aren’t “enough” of our authentic self in that Jack Sparrow or unicorn, Princess Leia, or zombie costume.
supergirlEven I wanted to vomit after I heard myself say to someone last night regarding my Super Girl costume, “I felt called to this costume.” But it was true—part of me identified with Super Girl characteristics. Maybe it was the part of me that has been seeking those characteristics in someone else for so many years. I decided to be her since I haven’t successfully found or (more likely) recognized him. We learn to embrace and embody that which we are looking for—and sometimes that just means embodying what it means to “matter.”

The questions are endless: What is real friendship? Real love? Real commitment? The first couple definitions of “real” according to Merriam Webster are the ones that roll off our tongue when asked for a definition: “actually existing or happening; not imaginary; not fake, false, or artificial.” But it’s the last definition that strikes me: “important and deserving to be regarded or treated in a serious way.”

I think this is what Margery Williams meant when she wrote the Skin Horse telling the Velveteen Rabbit, “…once you are real, you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.” The tattered Velveteen Rabbit was very real to the little boy who loved him. And that is all that mattered.

Surrender

puppy in lap“Make a list. Go in knowing what you want. Don´t stray!¨ my friend Holly advised me before going to the animal shelter.  I swung through the shelter for my 5th visit in 2 months. It was Valentine´s Day Eve—two days after my 37th birthday and 4 days after a man had left me in a puddle of tears for the nth time.

I remarked to the volunteer how few dogs remained.  ¨Yeah, we adopted out a lot today.” The only dogs left were a handful of panting pit mixes, disenchanted Chihuahuas, and scruffy middle-aged muts. I knew them and they knew me. There we stood eye to eye Valentine´s Eve waiting to be wanted, cared for, and loved.  After all, who really needed the rescuing?

The chipper pitbull named Chomps, I thought, had been done a disservice by the shelter.  He might as well have been named “Eats small children for breakfast.” It would be equivalent to being at a singles event and meeting a fat, hairy, unemployed man named, “Dick”. He would have no chance of ever even being “taken for a walk”.

I had challenged Holly´s advice: “But lists don´t work. Dogs change like people. Your sweet ´fits in the crook of my arm´ (supposed) collie mix puppy turns into a very large lab who doesn´t know its own strength. Similarly, you think you are marrying a handsome fit man and 15 years later his testosterone levels drop and he grows unmotivated, depressed and fat.”

She countered, “But you also don´t want to go looking for a relationship with a man with a sense of humor and think he´ll develop it later. Or look for a dog good with other dogs and convince yourself the one you fell in love with will develop those skills later.”

The overlap between dating in your 30´s and looking for a companion at the pound is remarkable. We want a young moldable dog–one without a history of biting or disease. One who plays well with others and likes small children. One that is emotionally available not guarded. One without a previous owner (or at least one that wasn´t abusive).  We look at the American pit bull-golden retriever mix and we see nothing but a pit. We see the “divorced-with-kids” and immediately label him/her with baggage, not resilience.  We ask ourselves, “What´s wrong with these animals if they were left at the shelter at their age?” instead of turning the question on ourselves and asking, “How do I need to work on myself? Why am I still single and searching for a companion on Valentine´s Eve?”

My recently divorced 53 year old friend, Nancy, discussed what it was like starting over dating after a 25 year marriage and 2 kids.  “I don´t want to date a man too much older than me.  Then it´s like getting an 11 year old cat…pretty soon he´ll be old and I will have invested in someone to take care of!”

But in a way, that´s what we do right? Or maybe that´s what I´ve been doing. For the past 10 years I have found myself pursuing men I could rescue. In the end, however, I´m the one left behind in need of rescuing. I can smell an open wound seeping testosterone a mile away.  And something about me must be attractive for these men to get involved long enough to get their feet wet and then seek help elsewhere. This past week, I did the rescuing but also the surrendering.

Three days after Valentine´s Day, I returned to the shelter and fell in love with two two-month-old puppies—precisely what I´d been advised not to do.  “Puppies consume your life!” I´d been told by many friends advising me to either get a cat or at least an older dog.

puppy pile

This advice triggered a distinct memory of my grandma sobbing the night my grandfather passed away. “Don´t marry an older man. They´ll just leave you lonely.”  That was 14 years ago. Today, at 89, she is trapped in her loneliness as macular degeneration steals away the rest of her sight. I was 23 that night she instilled a certain fear of loneliness.

An hour after I left the shelter, I called to put holds on the two irresistible pups but learned that I would have to wait in “2nd place” with a $10 second hold; two individuals had swooped in and placed $20 first holds on both puppies. I had next “dibs”.

The lab, Tinker, hadn´t leapt into my arms like Flame, the collie, had. So naturally I told myself the collie was meant to be “mine”. Come to think of it, though, I hadn´t reached out to Tinker either.  Sometimes we do that–we forget that one isn´t affectionate until we first open our arms.

When I called at the end of the day to see if Flame was still available, I was informed she had indeed been adopted out.  I broke down crying with the volunteer on the phone, “I hope Tinker isn´t also taken tonight, then.”   My mom responded to my disappointment with an attempt of encouragement, “But that means Flame will get a good home, right?” I was raw. I was pms´ing. I was angry with myself for having procrastinated in calling to place a first hold. “Just like all the good men got a good home when I didn´t make up my mind?” I responded.

Later that night I got a call from the shelter.  Tinker´s first hold hadn´t held. She was mine if I wanted her, but my hold would expire in 24 hours. I had “won”. Now it was time to decide.

My father, an analytical chemist and low-risk taker, reviewed all the obstacles and the cost-benefit analysis. I replayed my friends´ broken record of, “You don´t have the lifestyle to take care of a dog,” which I translated to mean, “You are too selfish to care for and commit to another being.” More complicated travel arrangements. Fewer happy hours after work. Money invested in vet bills, dog food, and chewed up replacements. Time invested in walking the pup and cleaning up potty accidents.

Just a month ago I had been sipping a porter telling the commitment fearing man I was dating that I too grew anxious thinking of settling down with one man.  “I still want to be the forbidden desire of a devout Saudi Arabian Muslim and make love to a young passionate Brazilian.” This he knew, he told me.  Perhaps he didn´t want to commit because he knew I wasn´t all in.

In considering the puppy, I thought of the three week trip to Europe I´d planned for the summer and the dreams I still had of traveling to the Middle East for a two month research stint. Maybe I wasn´t ready for the responsibility of a puppy. Maybe I was too “selfish” as my mother had called me when I told her in my early 20´s I wasn´t sure I wanted to have children.

That morning I had left the shelter after placing the 2nd holds, I ran into my friend Kristen wrangling her labradoodle pup for puppy kindergarten.  “Are you really considering a puppy? I can´t imagine how you´ll do it on your own. Steve is gone this week and I can barely manage on my own!” On my own. It rang in my ears like a dirty challenge.

leaning puppyI pushed it all to the back of my mind and decided since I had “won” her I should adopt her.  Besides, there was a 30 day money back guarantee. And so, at 6:30 that night, 30 minutes before the hold expired, I went to the shelter to rescue my Tinker-belle. “Do you have a name you want to call her?” the woman asked at the front desk as she entered my information. “Not yet,” I reluctantly replied, cradling the warm clingy Tinker in my arms. And I never did.

I took care of the little girl like she was my baby that night. I gave her a sponge bath with the Johnson and Johnson shampoo I had bought for her puppy sensitive skin. I cradled her 15 pounds.  When I wasn´t holding her she wandered over to the new area rug and left a brown puddle of diarrhea.  I put her in her kennel long enough to clean up the mess and then retrieved her to hold her some more. I felt my heart grow heavy for something I knew I couldn´t possibly care for as I should.

That night the thoughts I´d pushed to the back of my mind attacked my subconscious in the form of a nightmare and a mild panic attack. I dreamt that her water soluble sutures from her recent neuter surgery dissolved, her guts started seeping out, her eyes turned a ghastly green and she slowly began to die. There was nothing I could do. I was traveling from one place to another in the dream and I couldn´t save her. “I must surrender her,” I told myself in my periodic awake states. Tinker was quiet the entire night. I set my alarm and took her out every 2 hours so she wouldn´t have to sleep in her own diarrhea and urine.

When I awoke in the morning, I made an appointment with the shelter´s vet for Tinker´s three bouts of liquid diarrhea.  Maybe it wasn´t just nerves. Maybe she was sick with worms, I told myself.  But really I knew that it was a round-about way of getting us both back to the shelter.

On the short drive back to the shelter, I lost it. You´d think that I was putting down a dog or returning a fostered baby to the birth mother. I was merely surrendering a puppy. I felt like a failure—with my friends, with my family, with the shelter. I couldn´t commit to caring for this needy loving creature.

As I sat whimpering in the exam room, I could hear the vet techs whispering in the room next door, “I can´t believe she´s thinking of surrendering her. The puppy is so cute!”

A young very pregnant vet entered and kindly explained how the immediate test results revealed a healthy Tinker.  She handed me a tissue as I sobbed.  She could read my heart, “It´s ok if you want to surrender her.  She´ll find a good home.” It broke my heart to have a woman help me talk myself out of a situation, who had what I really wanted—a blossoming family.

The vet guided me out to the front desk where the woman sat who´d entered my information for the adoption the night before.  I felt her eyes rolling in her head as she pulled up my information, “Another failed adoption. Another human too selfish to care for another,” I heard her thinking.

“I´m so sorry. I just couldn´t do it,” I muttered.

“She´ll have no problem finding a loving family. I´ll put her right back on the adoption floor,” she said confidently.

“But the vet is still checking her tests…”

“I´m sure she´s just fine,” she interrupted me, and took Tinker from my arms.

As I drove away, I have never felt my heart so equally full of both relief and grief.

Of course, it was never about the dog.

It was about filling a void– one I could never fill with the world´s cutest cuddliest puppy.  It was about surrendering what I couldn´t love and learning to accept and love what I could—myself. It was about surrendering my grip on perfection and independence. It was about seeing my need to be loved as a strength not a weakness. I realized I no longer need to be the rescuer but the rescued. I craved a relationship where both were loving and “all in”. Where both were willing and even wanting to help clean up each other´s shit.

That night of surrender a friend told me about how he´d had to end it with a girl who couldn´t accept his wish to slow down.  She wanted all or nothing. He needed space. “I guess in some way it´s easier to surrender the puppy,” I told him.

The Stranger

“It will have to be a stranger,” my friend Pete said to himself.

We’d just finished painting my bedroom Malibu Coast. We’d spent the evening laughing and talking about foreplay (along the lines of dripping hot wax on your partner) and sexual paint names: Sex on the Beach Beige, Ride Me Ruby, Downtown Daffodil, Blow Me Blue. My new wall color seemed more suitably named Pedophile Pink; it looked as if it should’ve been on the walls of a little girl’s bedroom, not those of a 36 year old single woman.

“What do you mean a stranger?” I asked him.

“I mean the guy who takes your virginity will have to be a stranger. No man who loves you is going to want that sort of pressure.”

Huh. I’d never thought of it that way.
If a man loved me, of course he’d want to be the “one”. Right? If a man loved me, of course he’d value the moment. Right?

The idea of first having intercourse with a stranger sounded like a nightmare. Actually, I think I had that nightmare. Like flushing down the toilet something irreplaceable.
But the more I thought about it, I shuddered. After years of waiting for the “one”, the thought of having sex with a stranger actually sounded…freeing.

I would have no expectations of the guy after sex. I wouldn’t be concerned if he was worried about me or his performance. Would I? I could move on and have sex with men I’d wanted and who, also, had wanted me. Couldn’t I?

I could do it for myself. Yes. Call it a personal exploration. Or call me selfish—as one emailer called me in response to my NYT essay. He said I was too calculative…as if losing my virginity was a premeditated murder.

All along I’ve thought I was saving the experience to share with the love of my life. In actuality, perhaps I had been creating the biggest obstacle to that relationship I so badly desired. And, time ticked on, it was snowballing into a bigger and bigger obstacle. Perhaps I was intentionally rolling that snowball as my fear and my desire almost merged into one.

I started trying to convince myself. I’d be safe: who could become attached to a complete stranger? Even with a flood of oxytocin pumping through one’s veins. Knowing nothing but the smell of his damp skin, the weight and rhythm of his body, the depths he’d reach inside me, and the lock of his lips on mine. (A girl can fantasize, can’t she? I’ve heard, time and time again, my first time might not be all fireworks. But it could be.)

How could a woman connect to a man without knowing the depths of his heart?

My friend Gina, an adventurous, beautiful and wickedly smart 35 year old virgin, spoke with me yesterday about the man she’s been dating seriously. She’s struggling in deciding if she should have sex with him. “Why him?” she asked. “Why him at the expense of all the others?”

And that is the question we both face after waiting so long. Why invest in one when you weren’t willing to invest in someone equally “right”.

“He’s not any more special than the others,” she told me. “Am I hurting someone else I’ve passed up by choosing him?” Ok, realistically, no guy is going to come knocking on her door and demand, “Why wasn’t it me?” While her statement may seem narcissistic, I think it actually reveals a sense of self-imposed responsibility.

And then we both came to the conclusion. It was never about finding the right guy. The qualifications weren’t changing. We were changing.

Maybe it will have to be a stranger.

Holiday Card Rant

**I should preface this post in saying that I am greatly generalizing in my very cynical rant about something I (use to) love to do.**

I received 31 holiday cards this season. No I’m not bragging. And yes, I’m grateful for each one.
All, but one, came from beautiful couples with and without beautiful children smiling up at me. One even had the parents blurred in the background. About three of the cards had actual year end updates on the back (which I hope for). Most pictures were professionally taken in bucolic woods or sunny beach backgrounds. Children wore matching outfits. Wives and husbands rested their hands on one another to suggest the loving couple they always are. Even the dogs were poised in happy well-behaved positions. The pictures that disappoint are those that only include the children. I want to see my friends, not just their children. My favorites are the ones where children did not cooperate in a staged attempt at happiness.
Holiday cards today have become to Americans a (sometimes fictitious) portrait display of the happy family or couple. I asked my Polish friend what Polish people would think if they received such cards. He said, “They’d think Americans are narcissistic. It’s a religious holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ, not a holiday to worship families.”
I have only one single friend, recently divorced, who continues to send out Christmas cards. While still married, she always sent holiday cards with pictures of her, her husband and dog. The year after the divorce I still received her holiday card, this time featuring a picture of (just) her and her dog, Frank. But this year’s did not contain a picture. Sadly, Frank died this year. When I asked her why this year’s card had no picture, she said, “It felt sad not to have one with Frank.” No significant other? No pet? No photos on the Christmas card?
I told one unmarried friend (in a relationship which she prominently displayed on the front and center of the card) that I didn’t send out Christmas cards anymore because I had nothing to show. “You have plenty of holiday card-worthy pictures!” she enthusiastically encouraged. What selection of pictures am I going to display? Here I am running a trail. Here I am talking to Katie Couric about my virginity. Here I am holding someone else’s dog or child. Here I am at my desk writing about my sad single life in my new house I share with nobody.
I admit: I worry I’ll stop receiving cards since I don’t send them anymore. While visiting a friend’s house yesterday, I was admiring her prominent window display of holiday cards featuring professional looking portraits of friends. The other traditional Christmas cards without pictures were crammed together on the bulletin board. I noticed that she had received a portrait card from my friend I had introduced her to. They both have toddlers. With honest disappointment, I said, “Dang! You got a card from Nancy and I didn’t.” She explained, “Well, I sent her a card. Did you?” The trend I feared had begun: holiday cards exchanged (almost) exclusively between couples and families…because, well, they are the ones sending the cards.
Pic from 2012 holiday card with caption: "Hope your holiday is balls of fun!"Two years ago I sent out holiday cards to a select few. The picture (to the left) was one of me at Halloween dressed in a black leather catsuit and orange wig. The rando standing behind me dressed as Rudolph grabbed his reindeer nuts just as my friend snapped the picture. The caption? “Hope your holiday is balls of fun!”
Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt many single men are faced with the somewhat mournful process of opening card after card from friends you usually only hear from during the holidays on Tiny Prints and Shutterfly pearl shimmer premium cardstock. First of all, it’s almost always the wife creating the card (and signing his name first). Second of all, men aren’t expected to send out cards to their buddies. When is the last time you saw a guy browsing the card aisle other than for a Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, or a “Please Let Me Out of the Dog House” card.
I particularly feel bad when I go back home to Cincinnati and watch my mom open card after card from friends who only include pictures of their grandchildren. She would never say it, but I know she wishes she could send the same. I know, kids or no kids, husband or no husband, she’s still proud of me. When I was 23, it was ok to include a picture in our traditional New Year’s (because we’re always running behind) letter of her daughter in front of the Eiffel Tower. But now, “here’s a picture of my aging single daughter winning a 5k”, doesn’t quite feel right.
So….?
About 5 years ago I started sending out homemade cards at Valentines because a) nobody under the age of 10 sends friends Valentines cards and b) despite my cynical attitude toward holiday cards, I still believe in love (and that idyllic looking family standing in a colony of sun soaked golden aspen trees).

Seven years

As I was going through my files today, I found this poem I wrote in 2009. Most poems I’ve written years ago I reread with disdain and embarrassment for how silly they seem to me now. This one actually brought a pleased and nostalgic smile to my face when I reread it.

Seven Years

Seven: the number of years it took me to forget and remember;
Between us both ways in time; I climbed 7 and you grew 7 further:
Me, 24 turned 31
You, 31 turned 38.
I put it out there on both dates;
I lit it and reignited it; perhaps you painted one or two embers.
It’s my job to let go (the only way to regain strength and control) of the “I remember”
the eruptive sensations of self-induced suffocation and perceptive (ageless) tongues dancing between
meltable lips that spoke wordless poetry (don’t deny you know what I mean);
the way I would grin with my eyes when you weren’t looking to hide my happiness
for fear you’d lose interest;
too many words I could never tell you;
too many tears I spilled too few.
Connecting on one plane yet living two different landscapes:
You continuing to make your cut-out variations of wave shapes,
And me needing to taste the salt and feel the undulations.
A taste test with a parting gift isn’t 7 years of maturation.
Why did you want to see me,
kiss me,
move me,
hold me?
Age moves forward mercilessly despite how long we sit
On a memory; yet, lips seem to forget the miles and minutes:
Seven,
Maybe in heaven?

Baguette Bites and Snatched Cookies

It was only a baguette but I didn’t take the bite, as instructed. Rob was going to respond the same way whether I did or not, and he did: “You’re not a virgin any more. At least not in my book.” It was elbows to ass room in the tiny box of a house where throngs of young pro-cyclists and their entourages had gathered for a drunken New Years Eve celebration. Rob was the friend of the guy I was dating, Matt, and what he knew about me, he didn’t like: my virginity. “We all write different books I told him.”
He pushed past me and grabbed the gingersnap cookie out of my hand. I had held it together until that moment. But nobody steals my cookie. I felt the lump grow in my throat and a burning in my chest.

It was the same lump that pumped tears of angry humiliation to my eyes when Shawn would run into me on the school bus to knock all the books out of my hands. Or Eric would sing to the tune of the Chevy truck commercial, “Like a rock, she was duuuumb as she could be” whenever he beat me on a test. Eric and Bob had made a bet in that sophomore biology class: if I beat either of them on a test, the other could slug the loser in the arm.
Only this time, I felt the lump for both myself and Matt sitting next to me watching his “friend” treat me this way. I leaned over to where Rob, chocolate pretzel cigar in mouth and wool scarf encircled neck, was watching his pretty sequined fiancé take a shot-ski. Without questioning myself, I casually dumped my gin and tonic concoction into his glass.
That wasn’t the most mature thing to do, my mother advised later when I relayed the scene. But that lump went away.
I’ve gotten the “in my book” comment a couple dozen times now. “If you’ve had or given oral sex, you’re not a virgin.” Really? When is the last time you heard anyone say they “made love” when giving or receiving fellatio or cunnilingus?
There was something in Rob offering a bite of the baguette (Matt had brought to the party) and my denial of that bite that infuriated him. His response went beyond his typical asshole surface behavior. Somewhere at sometime, he’d offered his baguette and been denied. Or maybe he’d forced it upon some girl and now felt guilty for his actions. Perhaps someone had forced their baguette on/in him and then questioned his masculinity.

Whatever the case, I drew the line when he took my cookie.

The Good, the Bad, and the Raw: A year of lessons learned from spilling my guts and heart out to thousands of strangers around the world.

It’s been a year since my NYT essay, “Does My Virginity Have a Shelf Life?” was published. Here are the lessons I’ve learned.

The buzz phrase these days may be “Be Authentic.” But when it comes down to it, people are uncomfortable with being vulnerable. They are even more uncomfortable with others they (think they) know making themselves vulnerable. Many friends and acquaintances I ran into on the trails, at work, at church, in the gym, at the grocery responded to my NYT essay as if they’d seen me naked, almost embarrassed to admit they’d read it. And so, I decided to take it a step further. In June I went ahead and had actual professional nude photos taken, black and white photographs which focus on specific shapes and curves in my body. It was another awkward but freeing experience. Like publishing a piece of writing dear to your heart, the nude photo session required me to grant myself grace in my imperfections (or at least how I saw them). Another experience where, if I felt confident in my own skin and showed myself some compassion, I was safe.

Privacy and a sense of safety involve constantly renegotiating boundaries with yourself and others you care dearly about. I didn’t think twice about publishing my essay on my virginity. I felt strongly about putting it out there. But when I woke up in the middle of the night it went live online, I freaked out when I saw I had emails from as far away as India and the Middle East. When I let on to my parents the next morning that I was afraid, I remember my father candidly saying, “You’d better be ready. People are going to be out to get you.” I felt like I was 16 again on the track with 200 meters to go in the race. I could hear my father yelling, “They’re coming!” It was at that moment that morning I realized, so long as I appeared calm to my parents, they wouldn’t let on to their own fears. By “faking it” a bit, we kept each other both feeling safe. Expect controversy if you open a discussion and be ready for it.
There’s a fine line between pride and shame. When the NYT article was published, I wanted to shout it from the mountain tops. A minute later, I was looking for the nearest hole to hide. I know my parents were proud of me but they also had mixed feelings about how much personal information I’d shared. The Sunday morning it was printed in the NYT Sunday Review, I called home and my father answered: “Do you have any clothes on?” he asked sarcastically. “Oh, just reminiscing about the essay,” he joked. One stressful night before leaving for NYC for the Katie Couric show, my mother and I got into it. “You never asked Dad or me if we cared about you sharing naked stories with the world!” To which I retorted, “You never said I couldn’t when I shared the essay with you two!”  The truth is, I didn’t want to ask, because I knew they’d be uncomfortable with it.  The other truth is, they didn’t want to voice their opinion, because they were also excited for me. It was interesting monitoring my reaction watching my mom deal with her decision to share or not share with her friends my essays and appearance on Katie Couric.  In some ways, I wanted to control who in our community knew, and in other ways I wanted her to share and be proud of me. I realize I had put her in a tough situation. I am beyond blessed to have the sort of relationship with my parents that I do.
Think twice before marketing your heart. I constantly have to remind myself this as I hear the chatter of others advising me to capitalize on the media attention while the subject is “hot”. I was not writing about the newest trend in marathon training or a new gluten-free cornbread recipe, I was writing from my soul. I have felt like I’ve been riding a wave for a year, not knowing when and if I’m going to “run out of time” and crash into the shore. If it’s a wave, then I have no control over what happens. If it’s a sail boat, then I feel the pressure to continue to adjust my sails to catch as much wind as possible to get as far as possible…whatever that means. There’s a fine line between adequate and over self-promotion. I have to monitor my competitive nature when comparing myself to writer friends I see posting on Facebook their awards and book signings. The bottom line is figuring out what feels comfortable and good to me. It’s a delicate thing marketing your heart when you know there really are others out there who benefit from it. The sweet emails of support amongst the critical ones are the glimmers that have continued to motivate my writing.
Don’t tell me, “You’re brave”. I only hear, “You’re stupid”. It’s like when someone says to you, “Wow, you look really tired.” What you hear is, “Wow, you look like shit.” What felt good to hear was, “Wow, you put your heart out there.” Because I did.
When someone asks you, “Why did you write it?”, “Because I wanted to” is answer enough. One ex-boyfriend sent me the following message the day it was published: “I read your article and the point of you writing it and your goal of sharing it escaped me as it apparently did the vast majority of people who read and commented on it.” I told him, “I didn’t expect you to get it. I started writing it 7 years ago originally to cathartically work through issues and then decided to try to publish it as a voice for many other women (and some men) who are also not understood. Luckily the NYT ‘got it’ and thought it was a voice/opinion and a piece of writing worthy of being heard/read. And frankly, that’s what matters to me right now.” Sometimes it’s hard not to listen to your subconscious that shouts, “WHO CARES?!”  Somebody does.
Don’t make your essay title a question if you don’t want advice. I received more emails from 50+ year old men giving me fatherly advice than I ever imagined. Of the 600 online comments, I read about 6 of them and then stopped. I didn’t write the piece for advice; I’d already thought about the subject enough to drive me almost mad.

Readers aren’t judging you. They’re judging themselves. Sex, particularly virginity, is such a trigger topic for everyone because everyone has his/her own set of experiences. It’s hard to write about your personal experience without others inadvertently thinking you are judging them.  In reality the writing makes them judge themselves and then turn on the writer projecting on him/her their own feelings.
It’s a blessing to be able to write about and have published something so dear to your heart. Hundreds of writers write vacuum cleaner reviews, police reports, and book reviews their whole lives and never have the opportunity to truly share what matters to them in their writing.
Media thinks someone choosing to be a virgin based on their own principles is more interesting than based on religious principles. And yet, no matter how many edits made, they are highly intertwined. The NYT, Elle and Glamour all edited out most (if not all) mention of religion in my essays. However, I wouldn’t be who I am today if it hadn’t been for my sense of self-worth instilled in me through Christian teachings. I still believe in and love God today. And I still (yes, still) believe that sex is sacred, even if my goals have changed since I was a chaste teenager standing in front of the church congregation for a “True Love” ceremony (ironically alongside a friend I later learned was already having sex).
Wait! Who is in control is debatable: the discipline or you. The Elle article I most recently published argues that my identity is not defined by my sexuality. In many ways my identity has been defined (through athletic and academic training) by discipline. And yet, as the year has progressed I’ve continued to question my discipline to wait to have sex in a mutually exclusive loving relationship. Has my disciplined nature created an inescapable situation? Does waiting have a control over me? Just as love is winged cupid or death is depicted as the Grim Reaper, I’ve wondered what “waiting” would look like if he/she were animated?
“Ground down to rise up.” I love this often quoted line in yoga class. With all the attention and hype around the Katie Couric show and the NYT article, it was easy to get caught up in the questions, expectations, and criticisms of others. In order to rise above the meaningless chatter in my head, I had to ground myself in what mattered most: my family and friends who knew me and loved me at my core and my own heart.
And the final lesson: All is well if you know you’ve written honestly from your heart and protected those you love.