Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rose Water & Orange Blossoms

“And when you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart:
Your seeds shall live in my body,
And the buds of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart,
And your fragrance shall be my breath,
And together we shall rejoice through all the seasons.”

-- Khalil Gibran, from the opening paragraph of Monica Abood's book Rose Water and Orange Blossoms

Quite lovely, n'est-ce pas?


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"My girlfriend is in Boston" and other tales from the frontline of online dating

Written at 12.30am yesterday. Updated: now.

I've learned a lot these past few days. (And I must thank you, dear reader, for indulging me and coming with me on this journey, and offering support, and cheering me on. I'm sure sometimes I behave in the most boneheaded ways, but you are kind enough not to point it out!) I've learned that no-one can teach you anything, that you have to experience things for yourself in order for them to feel real in your body (and I say this quite specifically, because as anyone who has done even a little therapy knows, understanding something intellectually is very, very different from knowing something in the meat of your bones, in your muscles, in your soft, animal belly, as Mary Oliver calls it.) Yesterday, I finally said to my sister, you were right, I was wrong. Yes, he did let me down again and again and yes, even though I keep finding books and postcards all over the house with little scribbled inscriptions in them, the man in London was not a good fit, not for me, not for where I am. But neither is he a bad person. He's kind and good and like everyone else who walks this earth, he is doing his very best, as am I, as are you.

There is one thing we share as human beings (well three if you count the fact that we are born and then we die): everyone desires to love and be loved. That's it.

And the lack of forgiveness is a heavy yoke to bear.

But this week, almost by mistake, I discovered what it felt like to be with someone who doesn't judge, and who quietly adores. And it is the most intoxicating feeling. To be in the presence of a big, sweet, soulful, open heart, someone who speaks their truth without artifice or agenda, is something quite new.

Now while I wax rhapsodic, I'm no Pollyanna (well, a bit, maybe). There have been bumps and missteps and a wealth of self-knowledge flooding in. It feels a bit like I've missed out on the last 25 years, not in a bad way, it's been lovely. I've had a long marriage, excellent children (one of whom I spoke to tonight while I was in the bath and it was 1am on the east coast and she wanted to have a girly chat) - I would change none of it. But the world of dating and courtship and the social mores of the human sexual relationship dance are completely unknown to me and I am learning and I am diving in and I am, I hope, not hurting anyone along the way, although, it's hard.

Everyone now goes online to find love. It's strange isn't it. No more can you walk through a country field and have Matthias Schoenaerts gallop up to you on a horse.

Not one to do things by halves, I'm on five different sites/apps. It's ridiculously overwhelming. It's downright ridiculous. But my ex-husband tells me it's a numbers game,  and I don't want to be doing it forever, so I'm putting my best foot forward. I'm trying my best to see as many people as possible. I feel like the prince in Cinderella, scouring his kingdom to find the woman whose foot the shoe fits. I've had drinks or coffee or dinner with men who are younger than me, sometimes 15 years younger, and men who are older than me. I've met or spoken to writers and editors, camera guys, actors, pilots, mountaineers, investment bankers, painters, professors. No firemen, but here's hoping! ;) And from each one, you learn something. You learn, for example, that you can tell within about 3 minutes whether or not you will have chemistry with that person,  or you learn to stop the date short if the person doesn't ask you one question about yourself, but more importantly, you get to glimpse, hopefully with empathy into the souls of people you wouldn't usually meet. One man had been through a horrible divorce and was clawing his way out, working hard to better himself, to make a life for his children, and was doing so with such elegance. Another wanted someone to share his passion for travel, especially to South America. Another told me very sweetly all about his old dog and how he wasn't sure how he would manage when the dogs was gone. There are so many stories. So many ways we try to relate to each other.

And there's this:

Remember, I think, Everyone is doing his best.

I've learned to be more empathetic, to be more clear about what is important to me, and I've learned to listen to that animal fight or flight instinct that kicks in when you're not with the right person. My lovely new therapist says: "This isn't right for me." To be able to separate who a person is, and how they fit in with what you need, is so important and something I haven't ever been able to do, until now, because I want to make everyone happy so I mold myself to what they want...

This is a bit of big admission at 12.30am after a long weekend. But it feels important, I suppose.

So, it's a journey of self-discovery. I am so grateful to all the people out there who are brave enough to reach out and say, I'm lonely, I'd like to connect. It's hard stuff. We humans, with our fragile little egos, so easily hurt, so delicate.

I'll battening down the hatches and girding my loins for the next onslaught. To the man in the sequined knickers, and the man on the tiger's back, and the man with the array of paddles, and the man in the diaper, and the man in the superhero outfit with the ripped chest, I salute you.

Cary's black bean, avocado and radish salad

This is one of those salads that is an enormous crowd pleaser. Every time I make it I'm begged for the recipe. It's the brainchild of Cary, who was the children's second mother when they were small. This weekend, we served it with carne asada tacos (and home made tortillas).

2 cans of black beans rinsed and dried
2 bunches of radishes, washed and chopped into small cubes
3 avocados, cubed
2 Serrano chilis, deseeded, deveined and finely chopped
Half bunch of cilantro, chopped finely
1 red onion chopped finely
Juice of 2 limes (or more to taste)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

(If you like corn, grill 3 ears of corn and add the kernels. )

Gently toss the ingredients together and adjust the seasoning to taste.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Accession 9, Box 4

Not the death but the certificate.
Not the marriage but the ring.
Not the children but the photograph.
Not summer but the shell.

Not the body but the lock of hair.
Not the meal but the menu.
Not birdsong but the feather.
Not home but the lost key.

Not the journey but the boarding pass.
Not the tree but the dried leaf.
Not the good suit but the button.
Not years but diaries.

Not the lover but the love letter.
Not the sea but salt.
Not the poem but words and ink.
I have lived. Here is the proof.

Vona Groarke, July 2013

Monday, May 18, 2015

Selfie against a pink wall

When You Go Away

When You Go Away

When you go away the wind clicks around to the north 
The painters work all day but at sundown the paint falls 
Showing the black walls 
The clock goes back to striking the same hour 
That has no place in the years

And at night wrapped in the bed of ashes 
In one breath I wake 
It is the time when the beards of the dead get their growth 
I remember that I am falling 
That I am the reason 
And that my words are the garment of what I shall never be 
Like the tucked sleeve of a one-armed boy

-- W.S. Merwin


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Angeles National Forest

Questions for a Potential Suitor

Yes, it's your favorite correspondent reporting from the world of online dating, and here I am on the front line, metal helmet rammed on tight...

I've realized that the most sensible approach to online dating is the pragmatic approach. There are the texts, the emails, the chats, the coffees, more chatting, the drinks, the dinners. But in the end, what do we want? To love and be loved, right? And in the end, you just want to find out if you're comfortable enough with someone to curl up next to them and feel warm and kittenish. Am I right, ladies? You know that feeling, when you trust someone and you feel really good just being close to them and curled up and chatting in the dark about everything and nothing...isn't that what we all crave as humans, that connection?

So really addressing the elephant in the room is the way to go. Americans are far, far more pragmatic than the English. I tend towards being polite, making dull small talk, but really, I have some big questions that need to be answered before I will consider going out with you. And they include, but are not limited to these:

1) Why are you here? If it's for another notch on your belt I'm not your girl.
2) Why did your last relationship end, and was it because you punched her?
3) Have you ever spent time in jail?
4) Do you like dogs? (Actually this should be number one. Embarrassingly, Thistle was a complete flirt with a man I was on a date with, cozying up to him and being a complete strumpet...)
5) Can you cook? Do you like food? Can we talk about it incessantly?
6) Are you happy to be in nature? (Please say you are.)
7) Do you read books and can you use a couple of vocabulary words I don't know just to make me swoon?
8) Are you happy with someone who asks too many questions, often gets the wrong end of the stick, and has been a bit damaged lately?
9) Do you know which knife to use? Can you fish? Have you ever killed an animal for food or because it was in distress? Are you empathetic with small children or people who can do nothing for you? Are you kind, sir?

You see, I'm learning :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Try Not To Be A Twat

More from the world of online dating...

It's odd this being burned thing. When someone does a number on you ("fuck that guy" says my lovely friend who looks out for me, but to be completely honest, I'm sure I did a number on him too, and I'm sorry for that) it makes you frailer, more sensitive, stretches your antennae out even further, sometimes around corners, feeling out for dangers that maybe don't exist. You want to let the "soft animal of your body love what it loves" as Mary Oliver would say, but the robotic, metallic armor gets in the way, makes you too wary, stops the child that wants to love and be loved, protects too firmly, makes your body rigid instead of buttery.

with my favorite soft animal belly

There is a very nice man, someone who I believe may have been hurt deeply as I have been, someone elegant and kind and funny, sharp as a tack, and I like him -- and he is sexy -- but I can't allow myself not to be protected. I have seen him once and he made me laugh, which is no small feat, as I tend to be irritated by most people, especially those who think they're comedians. Texts are imprecise in plan-making. Texts boast efficiency, but leave no room for tenderness, for human emotion, for understanding that everyone is fighting a hard battle. Texts demand you give them the benefit of the doubt, but still, I feel my hackles rise, as they did before, and I feel the old familiar pull of the feisty/fighty/tension, half really sexy and half scary as hell.

Thanks to my friend Curt for this...

People need to be in a room together and looking into each other's eyes, and touching each other to fully understand the other.

I regret so much the misunderstandings in the tentative dance one does with online dating, but the reaching out, and stepping back, and the dosey-dos, and the weaving, and the twirls, and the occasional, beautiful human contact is what brings me back again.

Vivien and I discuss David Bowie on the phone and she gives me advice. As Caitlin Moran says, most things in life can be resolved by listening to Bowie. Here's Quicksand:

"I'm not a prophet or a stone age man
Just a mortal with the potential of a superman
I'm living on"

I will persevere and I will try not to be a twat. That's all we can do really, isn't it?

It takes everything one has to remain open and soft and kind. But, by God, we need to keep trying to do it.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Ten Things Every Teenage Girl Should Know

Here is the brilliant Caitlin Moran, author of "How to Build a Girl," with ten things every teenage girl (and every woman) should know. Please share this with every girl you know:

10 Things Every Teenage Girl Should Know

1. Self-loathing is the default mode of the teenage girl. You are not alone in this. Contrary to what you think, it’s nothing to do with how fat your legs are, or the unmanageability of your hair. You are self-loathing because you are turning into a woman – and this seems, to a 13-year-old girl like something exhausting, joyless and high-maintenance, for which you will constantly be judged. And you are right. By and large, that’s exactly what being a woman is right now.
2. But you don’t need to be like those women. You can choose what kind of woman you want to be. And if that kind of woman doesn’t exist, you reply “That kind of woman doesn’t exist – yet.” “Yet” is going to be a useful word for you. “The world isn’t like that… yet.” “People don’t do things like that… yet.” As a teenage girl – as the future – YOU are the “yet”. You are the one who gets to invent the future. You are the one who gets to invent new women. The kind of women you’d be excited to be. Refer to this process as “the revolution”, for short, because it sounds more exciting. You want the future to be exciting.
3. Start the revolution with you. If you’re self-loathing, invent a “you” you don’t loathe, instead. Imagine the thing you would want to be – then be it. Make yourself your own project/pet/pretend best friend. Pretend to be confident, happy, relaxed and you’ll soon realise there’s no difference between pretending these things and actually being them. Wear a silver cape. Be obsessed with geology. Don’t speak until 11am. Intend to be the worlds first Girl Beatle. Learn what every drag queen before you knew: fake it till you make it.
4. Your key hobbies need to be long country walks (get some fresh air in your lungs), masturbation, and the revolution. Between those three, you should, in the long term, stay relatively sane.
5. Don’t cut your own fringe. It is far, far more difficult than you could ever imagine.
6. For that matter, don’t cut anyone else’s either. Good friendships have ended that way.
7. Every time your heart gets broken, breathe deep – it grows bigger as it mends. Imagine each line of red scar tissue on it with pride – the same pride you’ll one day have for the stretch marks on your belly, after having a baby. Skin and hearts year to make great things. Don’t be afraid.
8. And if your mind tears, do not fear that, either. Depression takes off a layer of skin, so accept that you feel more of the world than most people. Did you hear what I said? YOU FEEL MORE OF THE WORLD THAN MOST PEOPLE. That’s amazing. And anxiety works like electric in your bones – it keeps you wakeful and driven, so use those extra hours, those extra, sleepless days, that your poisoned adrenaline is giving you. You are living longer. You live in double time. Insist that that’s a blessing. Fake that until you make that, too.
9. When in doubt, listen to David Bowie. In 1968, Bowie was a gay, ginger, bonk-eyed, snaffle toothed freak walking round South London in a dress, being shouted at by thugs. Four years later, he was still exactly that – but everyone else wanted to be like him too. If David Bowie can make being David Bowie cool, you can make being you cool. PLUS, unlike David Bowie, you get to listen to David Bowie for inspiration. So you’re one up on him, really. YOU’RE ALREADY ONE AHEAD OF DAVID BOWIE.
10. Go out there and change the world, so it works for you and every girl like you. I know you will.