Thursday, January 29, 2009

City visits and job interview

Tara and I had a MOMA trip planned for Tuesday, but when we got there, we found to our dismay that the museum is closed on Tuesdays - wtf?!? That was terribly disappointing, but we managed to salvage the trip by visiting the Cloisters on a very uncrowded afternoon and spending some quiet time there. Which was a bit of a relief for both of us because we were talking about our relationship and poly issues throughout the whole trip. Not that I mind talking about relationship issues with anyone and we had a nice afternoon together, but our energy was anything but peaceful for most of the day.

Here's a picture that Tara took of a newly opened section of the main chapel section of the Cloisters:


I met with the HR guy from a PR firm yesterday in the city and had a brief but encouraging talk. I might hear back before the end of the week if they want to proceed. It was supposed to snow heavily yesterday, but it was mostly rain and ice, so at least my movement was not impeded.

After my meeting I met up with one of my friends from PolyNYC for dinner, a guy named Kyle, a 45-year-old FTM. We went to a diner in the city and had a nice chat about life and transitions and stuff - he's writing a book about his life and experiences. We stopped at a drugstore to pick up some cookies for the meeting, and then proceeded to Simon's six-story walkup apartment in the East Village.

We had nine people at the PolyNYC leadership meeting, and it was a barn-burner. I think everyone just needed some time to vent, and they did. I mostly stayed quiet and listened, and tried to input a calm, unbiased perspective where I could get a word in. I think we have a lot of work ahead of us if we are to get the boat moving in the right direction with this group.

After the meeting I met up with Penny, who was coming out of her tango dancing class, and we walked and chatted together for about 30 minutes until she had to leave. We continue to try and carve out time in our busy lives to see each other until she leaves for Argentina, but it's difficult with all our other family commitments.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Year of the Ox

Today is Chinese New Year, the year of the Ox. Nothing special planned for me, just wanted to mark it somehow.

I told my family the other night that when I look back on my time off, the biggest accomplishment so far would probably be reading a lot of Laurell K. Hamilton books. I'm on a quest to read all 18 of the books in her Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, and I'm on book nine (Obsidian Butterfly) at the moment, so I'm halfway there. I'm in the part of the character's storyline that has a lot of polyamorous and BDSM themes pertaining to shapeshifters, and I'm discovering that those characters are indeed more interesting than the vampires in the earlier stories. Despite their pulpiness, they are surprisingly rare at used book stores, so I'm checking out some titles from the library to conserve funds.

The other big news at the moment is that I've been invited to join the leadership council of Polyamorous NYC as the Communications Manager. I spent about four hours on the phone last night talking to some of the council members and other people about it, and I'm considering the offer (it's a volunteer position). The organization is going through a lot of changes right now, and I'm still deciding how much a part of it I want to be. A lot will depend on a leadership meeting we're having this Wednesday night and how things go with that.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cooking party

As you might have guessed from my last post, there have been some interesting developments with Penny. It started on Sunday, when I had invited Penny and Lori over to my apartment to cook a meal together. It's the first time I've had anyone outside my family over to my place since moving to New Jersey. The two of them met back in early December the night Penny and I saw Stomp! at the Orpheum Theatre, and became fast friends.

Lori arrived first and I picked her up from the bus terminal in the early afternoon, and we went to Whole Foods to have a quick lunch before coming back to pick up Penny. Then we went to Costco to shop for food, and to the Asian grocery store for dinner ingredients. Lori taught us to make fried tofu with mushrooms and snow peas, and fried Japanese eggplant with mushrooms and garlic. We also made Ghirardelli's chocolate brownies for dessert. We created a very nurturing energy among ourselves, Lori sharing her cooking wisdom, and each of us contributing our efforts to create a meal that was shared by all. It was a very positive experience for me to open myself up a little more to my friends. Since Penny gave her permission to use it, here's a photo of her at my house:

After dinner we watched The Forbidden Kingdom on my projector screen and looked at Lori's photos on her computer. I showed Penny some comics she was interested in, like Castle Waiting, Frank Miller's Wolverine miniseries and the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter books. It was around midnight when we left the apartment to drive back to Staten Island, which is about an hour's drive each way.

We got lost in SI trying to find Lori's house because she's never driven there before from New Jersey, but her boyfriend Erik was nice enough to help us over the phone, despite the lateness of the hour. We finally dropped her off and went to Penny's house. We walked in the door about 2:30 am, and her mom came downstairs to greet us in her bathrobe. She asked if I would like to stay the night, and I asked Penny if she wanted me to, and she did. I called Tara and left her a message so she wouldn't worry about me.

We stayed up for another couple of hours, looking at pictures on her computer and talking with her older sister, who was home for a visit. When we were done looking at pictures, we brought an extra blanket and pillow upstairs and shared the queen-size inflatable bed. Truth to tell, I hardly slept a wink all night - partly because the bed was really firm, and these days of unemployment have made me accustomed to a very late sleep schedule.

But what also kept me awake was the significance of sharing an intimate space with this girl I'm growing to love. She is only the third person I've ever shared a bed with in my life, not counting group sharing (Tara and my ex-spouse are the others). In some ways, our relationship has progressed very quickly, considering we started seeing each other only four months ago and haven't spent all that much time together. However, hardly anything about our relationship is "normal" so there's not much point in analyzing it by conventional standards.

In the context of my last post about the nature of love, I feel I'm attracted to her specific wavelength of energy that I can feel when we touch each other. I've written before about the importance of touch and Penny is one of the few people I've ever met who communicates through touch the way I do, possibly because we were both raised by families who practice massage and healing touch. Apart from hugging and kissing, we transmit energy through non-sexual touching, mostly through our hands. We can be sitting through a PolyNYC meeting in a roomful of people and have this wonderful exchange of loving touches, almost like having our own private, unspoken conversation. It's very difficult to describe, but it is real - Tara and I have shared this as well.

I also feel it through my other senses, like my sense of smell, which has become a much more powerful pull on my emotions than it used to be (we primates tend to forget that for most mammals, smell is more important than vision when communicating with each other). But probably most important right now is that Penny and I share a connection through polyamory, and we agree on the basic principles contained in my theory on unconditional love - meaning we try to enjoy our moments together without regard or expectations for what the future might bring, or what we might want from the developing relationship.

Despite all this, there is one future event that does loom on the horizon - she is leaving for a solo trip to Argentina on Feb. 15, so we will be mostly out of touch for two months. I'm trying not to think about how much I will miss her while she is gone, because I don't want it to spoil the time we have until then. As I've said before, one of my three tenets is to live in the moment and fully experience happiness as it comes, and I will continue to do that. But I also have to recognize that the moment is not meant to last forever, and the only way to prepare myself for when it's gone is to live fully in the present, so that there are no regrets later about moments left untouched, unlived.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The nature of love

Have you ever thought much about the nature of love? What we look for in a partner, how we know when we're in love, how to make it last and why we fall out of love? I've been thinking about it a lot lately, especially since New Year's Eve when there was a passing mention of the topic in a conversation with Penny's friends Patrick and Louis.

Looking back on my life, I have to admit that I tend to be rather impractical in the targets of my affections. I've always believed that the initial attraction that sometimes blossoms into love is something you can't control, although it's only been recently that I've fully accepted that belief. I've fallen in love with different people in different ways over the years, and tried to make the best of imperfect circumstances - to sometimes disastrous results. Let's just say that if love were a team sport, I'd be one of the last persons to be picked.

So what to do when you find yourself in such a position? Change the rules, of course. If traditional monogamy ("TM") can be viewed metaphorically as a competitive, winner-take-all kind of game (say, like a tennis tournament), then my version of polyamory is more like a multi-player cooperative videogame like 1985's Gauntlet with the infinite health points cheat enabled. Instead of viewing love as a prize to be won (i.e., the happily ever after), why can't love just be part of the journey through life, with different players coming and going as part of a larger, ongoing process of personal growth?

I want to be clear that I'm not saying my way is better or that I'm somehow more enlightened because I choose not to buy into an institution with a failure rate of just over 40 percent. I agree that TM is a valid relationship option for a lot of people. The only thing I'm saying is that there are options besides TM, and among the infinite diversity of humanity and life situations, some of those options might actually be better than the standard, one-size-fits-all relationship model. Even among poly people, there are a plethora of different approaches and options that may or may not be compatible with each other. If someone chooses to follow a poly path, it's disrespectful and egocentric to assume that they are making a bad or illegitimate choice because of a bias toward TM, or to assume they are "settling for less" than the presumed relationship paragon of monogamy. It's like assuming everybody would be better off if they embraced the majority religion in the neighborhood.

Of course it is my place to defend polyamory since I practice what I preach, but there also has been some talk about why gay marriage rights activists aren't defending polyamory and the answer is simple. There are two components to the traditional view of marriage - the nature, and the number, of the participants. While you can use the same logic to argue against limitations to both, we Americans as a whole are much closer to being ready to change the nature of who can get married (extending it to homosexuals) than we are to changing the number (defining a marriage or family to include more than one adult participant, like a business partnership). Perhaps someday we will be able to broaden our concept of a lifelong romantic commitment by recognizing the validity of alternative relationship models that include more than two participants, but that time is not right now.

But I digress from the original purpose of this post. What I'm trying to do is find the commonalities between polyamory and traditional monogamy. If more mono people understood the reasons why people chose poly, maybe we could make some progress that would enable more people to pursue their own version of happiness. Once people accept that poly love is as valid as gay love, then maybe we can spend more time loving each other instead of fighting each other's rights to love whom and how we choose.

So the best way I can attempt to make this connection is to talk about the nature of love itself. Since the time of Plato we've been discussing the topic, but I will focus now specifically the early phase of love - I'm sure everyone knows what I'm talking about. It's that sometimes overwhelming burst of energy at the beginning of a relationship the brings individuals together, overcoming fears, boundaries and irritations that might preclude forming risky new connections between what are essentially strangers. It's the period of time when anything seems possible, where all obstacles can be overcome with love, and it's difficult to think about anything other than the object of your interest.

Poly people call this feeling "NRE" (new relationship energy), but I'm sure you can see that as I've described it, NRE is not just a poly thing. It's a human thing. It's another way of describing the feeling of "falling in love." And for those of you who have felt it, I'm sure you will agree that NRE is one of life's greatest blessings, a gift from the gods that can provide the energy and motivation to make huge changes (for good or ill) in one's life, as well as historically providing the inspiration for some of humanity's greatest artistic achievements.

An apt metaphor for NRE would be viewing it as the booster rockets for the space shuttle, in that they provide the extra power to get things moving off the launch pad and out of earth's gravitational pull. If the boost is strong and long enough, and everything else goes well, the craft escapes the atmosphere and the boosters are no longer needed. At that point, the rush of NRE fades and the relationship is guided by "LTE" or long term energy, which is wonderful and fulfilling, but not often as hot and exciting as NRE. However, without LTE, a relationship fueled only with NRE is probably going to burn out and crash, so both are necessary to ensure a meaningful and lasting relationship - if that's your goal.

This is all probably pretty intuitive for most people, whether you're poly or mono. People fall in love, go through a courtship phase, and either form a lasting commitment or realize once the sizzle subsides that an ongoing relationship is impractical or unwanted. The key difference with poly people is that we sometimes experience NRE and LTE with different people at the same time. Or we have to deal with (i.e. remain in a relationship) a partner with whom we have LTE who is going through NRE with someone else. So I readily admit that poly requires skill at compartmentalizing not dissimilar to the way I professionally advocate zealously for multiple PR clients at any one time, or how many people keep their work and home life separate. And yes, I admit this is harder and more complicated than focusing all your attention on a single person.

However, along with these concessions comes the realization that there's a price to pay for the stability and simplicity of traditional monogamy. Choosing TM means that you give up any foreseeable opportunities to experience NRE. It typically means you put all your eggs in one basket relationship-wise, meaning you only have one source for everything you require from a significant other. It means if you are tempted to act on NRE with someone, you have to be dishonest about it to preserve the TM relationship (i.e., cheat). There is also an expectation of fidelity that means you spend a fair amount of time enforcing agreed-upon behavior instead of spending the energy communicating honestly about the core feelings that lead to behavior in the first place. Basically, many of the common reasons why marriages fail are the compromises you make when you choose TM, although many of those can also end poly relationships as well.

So, there are two things we have to remember about NRE that helps us to deal with it. First, we should recognize it for what it is and not make it into more (or less) than it is. We should be able to understand that NRE is an altered state of consciousness (not unlike being intoxicated with alcohol, but less voluntary) that causes us to view everything through "love goggles" that alter our perceptions from those of our non-NRE-influenced partners. It also helps if those partners can be aware of NRE without being judgmental about it. Throwing out the phrase "oh, you're just in NRE" as an accusation is about as productive as telling somebody they only disagree with you because of PMS. Patience or even amused tolerance (if outright enthusiastic support is not possible) in dealing with a partner's NRE experience will do a lot to enhance the LTE relationship versus falling into a set of negative reactions. It's important to remember that while NRE is exciting and sexy, LTE is really what we're looking for if we want meaningful, lasting relationships rather than a series of casual hook-ups.

That brings us to the second point: we should recognize that NRE doesn't last forever, though LTE might (or might not) pick up when it fades. Most poly experts say NRE typically will last six to nine months, longer if it's a long-distance relationship, but the range varies widely from person to person. In fact, it's good advice not to make any decisions regarding career or housing until NRE has cooled off, just as a sensible precaution to ensure safe NRE enjoyment. And for the LTE partner, being aware that NRE will fade can be a comfort, plus highlight the need to continue nurturing the existing relationship without succumbing to the temptation of blaming NRE (unless real needs for time, energy, love and/or sex are not being met).

In short, the point is that poly and mono people experience love in basically the same way. The power and validity of those feelings engendered by the emotion of love are the same. Both versions have different rules and boundaries, and both have compromises. One is the overwhelming choice of the majority of the human population, sanctioned by the state, most organized religions and society in general - the other is not. But that doesn't mean that love between poly people is any less important to them than it is to TM people. When we as humans are attracted to a specific wavelength of energy put out by someone, we all feel it just the same. It's what to do with those feelings that we each have to decide however is best for us.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Letting my geek flag fly

I have a big post incubating in me about NRE (new relationship energy) vs. LTE (long-term energy) and the nature of love, but I'm not quite ready to put keys to screen and write about it. Instead, allow me to offer a short update and also embrace my inner geek-girl for a bit.

I've been feeling under the weather for the past week, probably a result of inactivity combined with exposure to allergens over the holidays. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were spent in homes with pets, and last Friday (January 2) Tara and I packed up her drumkit and drove to Hartford, CT for a long-planned rehearsal of her band. At the home of their keyboardist/bassist Kevin (along with their cat and dog), we set things up in the basement that belonged to his adult stepson, which looked like it hadn't been cleaned in years. But it was very exciting listening to them play, since it's probably been almost two years since their last gig, and I am hopeful that the endeavor ultimately will be rewarding for all of them.

It's been almost a month now since I stopped working, which qualifies as a long break for me. Although I did have that nine-month layoff that I call my "cocoon period" between the time I quit my job in Houston and started working in New York. But during that time I had a lot of other things going on, including relocating to New Jersey. But I'm certainly not missing work, especially since I'm sick right now. But to put things in perspective, I've been working constantly since 1991 without a break longer than a week, other than my cocoon period and now. This is only the second time in my life I've involuntarily left a job. On the progress front, I have an interview with a recruiter about a position with an engineering firm on Friday in SoHo, so hopefully that will be productive.

My family recently finished the entire Star Wars cycle, Episodes I through VI, and it's the first time I've seen the classic trilogy since seeing the prequels. Obviously, I'm of an age where I was brought up on Episodes IV-VI, so I know them intimately, yet by watching them right after the prequel trilogy, I found so much more nuance and significance to both trilogies and the canon in general. I think we all agree that if someone had never seen a Star Wars movie, the best thing to do would be to start with Episode IV: A New Hope and proceed in order of release date, but then re-watch the original trilogy again to catch all the references. This makes sense for lots of reasons - the duel at the end of Episode III is a natural climax, and the bad acting in the prequels becomes less grating if you're already invested in the story are two good reasons.

This week Tara and I also finished our Star Trek movie marathon, nine films from Star Trek: The Motion Picture to Star Trek: Nemesis (we skipped Star Trek: The Final Frontier since it's so awful neither of us felt like gagging on it). The trilogy of movies 2 through 4 obviously stands alone as the highlight of the bunch, but we also both felt a renewed appreciation for Star Trek: Insurrection, one that has never been high on my list. I still have to say Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan is my single favorite movie because of my loyalty to the original crew, but Star Trek: First Contact is a close second.

Last night I finished the Firefly series, one that I started last year with Bug and put on the shelf for the entire year. I watched the whole series (one season only) in the last two weeks, and loved it. After I watch the movie Serenity, I'll probably head back to the Whedon universe and finally finish the Angel series that I started last year - I only completed Season One, so four left to go.

Friday, January 02, 2009

2008 in review

Today is January 1st, and longtime readers know that it's time for my annual year in review recap. When I was thinking back about this year earlier, it seemed to me that I wouldn't have much to write about, because this year has seemed much less eventful than the previous three years of my life. But looking back in my 2008 blog entries, what I realize is that instead of big dramatic events - like surgery or house fires - there have been a lot of small milestones that have quietly become the fabric of my life.

But before I get into the annual tradition, it's time for a little holiday catch-up, since I've been absent from this space for an unprecedented two weeks, my longest unannounced absence ever. Obviously I've been enjoying an extended holiday break with my job layoff, and we've been getting some snowy weather here in the northeast lately, so I've been spending a lot of time reading, watching TV (i.e. Firefly) and movies.

Christmas Eve my family did its traditional vegetarian feast, which Bug handled solo this time, and I got lots of cool presents, mostly graphic books that continue what I'm currently reading: Fables Vol. 11: War and Pieces, Jack of Fables Vol. 4: Americana, Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men Vol. 2, The Brave & the Bold Book 2, Batman: The Black Glove, X-Men Legacy: Divided He Stands; plus an assortment of books and music tangentially related to my Twilight fetish, like Linkin Park's Road to Revolution, Paramore's The Final Riot, and of course, Twilight: The Complete Illustrated Movie Companion. I also got a couple Neil Gaiman books - The Graveyard Book and Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett) - the novel of the Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In, and a new deluxe hardcover of Camelot 3000, one of my all-time favorite graphic novels. I got about a half-dozen other assorted books and DVDs - my family does enjoy spoiling each other for birthdays and holidays, as I was by no means the top recipient in number of gifts this year.

On Christmas Day, a day that traditionally I have either spent alone or with Tara, Bee was kind enough to bring me along to her birth family party, which is only the second time I've met any of my family's birth family (we ran into Bug's father by chance at a restaurant earlier this year). We shared a wonderful traditional holiday feast (which included, for once, meat) and passed presents around. I met her parents, grandparents, brother and sister-in-law, and their little dogs too. I loved seeing photos of Bee when she was young, and even glimpsed a picture or two of Tara in the house.

I will digress here to return to the purpose of this post, the year-end recap, before I return to my New Year's Eve activities. If the major theme of last year was about recovering from surgery, the main theme this year has to be the growth and development of my poly family, and the impact of my intention to live polyamorously, which I decided in mid-January. In February I started attending monthly meetings of Polyamorous NYC and helped found a new poly support group for women only on I also started the regular routine of cooking dinner for my family on Saturday nights at my place. This year I've learned to fry tofu and dumplings, and make stir-fried bok choy and curry chicken, among other things, so I've been productive in the kitchen.

On March 10, Bee and I had an important talk, which I refer to as "the bookshelf talk" because we were building bookshelves while we were talking. It was the first time since mid-2007 that we talked openly about our poly situation and how we were feeling about it. Even though I'm the avowed poly girl, I rarely talk with her about the subject because I don't think she's as comfortable about it as I am, so it was good to hear her thoughts firsthand. The only problem is that these talks are not a regular occurrence, since we haven't had such a candid talk since then.

Just like last year, June was again a milestone month for me, and not because of jury duty where I started reading Twilight. On June 11, an overnight thunderstorm led to Bee, Tara and me spending the day at the beach, the first time we'd done anything like that since we dissolved as a triad. Two days later, Bee was attacked by one of the dogs she was training and badly mauled on her arm (the first in a string of mishaps for her this summer that included a bout of stomach flu, falling down stairs and tripping over her feet at work, once straight into a pool and another time cutting her forehead). Since she couldn't drive her company car, I took five days off to help them get around, and in that time we all became much closer as a family. I spent the night for the first time with Tara in her bed and Bee on the couch, and a couple days later Tara spent the night at my place for the first time, which has become a regular Friday event, followed by family nights on Saturdays.

However, the goodwill did not last for very long as Tara and I continue to struggle with our poly/mono differences, along with my own day-to-day communication challenges of a poly novice navigating a poly relationship with two people who don't wish to learn poly communication strategies. Up until Mabon (late September) dealing with my theoretical poly-ness was difficult enough, but things became even more complicated when I met Polina (Penny) at the PolyPride event in Central Park on October 4. After less than three months, we have become affectionate friends, although many obstacles impede the development of a serious relationship. Still, we enjoy spending time together whenever we have the opportunity (about once every seven to 10 days) and we try to connect in some form or fashion - email or phone - at least once a day.

Case in point was Penny's New Year's Eve party last night at her family's house on Staten Island. About 25 of her family and friends showed up to count down and celebrate the new year, a big tradition for Russian families (her Jewish family is from Ukraine). As midnight approached, Penny's father organized a group ritual to write down the things we wanted to leave behind in 2008, which he then burned in a Pagan-inspired ceremony with a candle. We had all kinds of deli food, like half-sour pickles, liver salad, gelfite fish, seaweed salad, smoked salmon, etc. Penny showed us her Argentine tango dancing, and I even took a turn on the floor dancing with her dad. We played a competitive word guessing game, where Penny's grandmother showed her psychic abilities to jaw-dropping effect. We talked and talked until people started dropping off one by one to find a spot in one of the bedrooms to sleep. By 6 a.m. everybody was headed upstairs but actually, I wasn't all that tired, so I decided to drive home to sleep in my own comfy bed.

As I was telling one of Penny's friends Rosie last night (who seems to be a fellow introvert and easy to connect with - maybe because she's friendly to the goddess), the party reminded me very much of the parties of my old life, with multiple generations present and accommodations made for non-English speakers (all the announcements had to be said by Penny's father in Russian, then translated by Penny into English). I could almost imagine that this would have been the kind of party I would be having in Houston on New Year's Eve, if things had gone differently with my birth family, if I'd been accepted and loved for who I am instead of being disowned. Although Penny's family is not the same as my birth family (no one is), it was a pleasant illusion to indulge in for one night.

Speaking of the birth family, I did get an email from my mom over Christmas, the first contact I've had with them in about two years. She was kind of passive-aggressive, saying that she hasn't written because she thinks I don't want to hear from them. I wrote her a measured response back, correcting what has been the case for years now - that if they can't respect who I am, then it's better for everyone if we keep our distance from each other. I fully don't expect to hear from her for at least another year, but I'm trying to keep an open heart about it, should there be any kind of breakthrough.

So as you can see, 2008 has been a quietly eventful year, and mostly positive for me. I've deepened my friendships with Lori and Agnieszka, had a nice vacation at the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, fell in love with Wicked on Broadway and Twilight at the movies, and became a member of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. My family is still close, and we are still very committed to each other, even though we have our ups and downs. I am exploring my budding relationship with Penny, who presents a particularly stringent test of my theory of unconditional love that I ascribe to. I am still very much in love with Tara, and even though we sometimes have a hard time understanding each other, we can still make each other laugh and we still create magick together that sustains us through the difficult times.

Happy New Year everybody, and bright blessings for 2009!