Monday, November 30, 2009

A missed opportunity

I used to think dating was hard enough as a single girl. Tonight I found out how much harder it can be as a pansexual polyamorous girl.

I went to my local public library after work to pick up the second half of my beginner's Russian language course (Polina and her family speak Russian, so it's nice to be able to say and understand a few words with them). After I got that, I went to look over the movies and found Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which I've wanted to see for a long time since I'm a fan of Woody Allen, and it's a poly-themed movie (there's a consensual love triangle between the three lead actors).

I was holding the movie and the Russian course when an older gentleman in a long black wool coat struck up a conversation with me. He was probably in his 50s, well-groomed, and had a polished and confident manner - think Richard Gere, but taller. He asked if I had any movie recommendations, and he noticed the movie in my hands, saying it was a good one. Since I haven't seen it yet, I couldn't concur, but I said I've been waiting a long time to see it.

Now here is the point where, if I were truly brave, I would have said my interest in the movie stemmed partly from my being polyamorous. But, even as generally open about it as I am outside of work, it's not something I typically blurt out upon first meeting someone, especially in a public library (which, by and large, is not a bad place to meet new people for someone my age).
Then he noticed the language course and asked what my interest was in Russian. I said my girlfriend and her family speaks Russian so I was learning to so I could fit in better with them. I also made the comment that this particular course (the Pimsleur method) seems to be tailored for American men going to Russia to pick up Russian women (lots of phrases like, "Wouldn't you like to have a drink with me? at the restaurant? at the hotel?" "Do you want to buy something?") He looked at me and said, "Well, that's something you don't really need."

We talked for a bit about his interest in Russian history, and my family background (my grandfather being a Chinese ambassador to Russia during the Stalinist period). After a bit more small talk about movies, he wished me a nice evening and left. We did not exchange names or contact information.

Now. I'm not saying I was especially attracted to this guy. Frankly, I didn't even make much eye contact with him because I was looking over the movies. He probably interpreted that as me being disinterested. But when I think back upon the encounter, I could have handled it better. The guy was clearly interested in me, or else he wouldn't have started a conversation. But I didn't give him much of a chance or any real encouragement to get to know me. That's not the way I want to live my life, but old habits die hard.

It also couldn't have been too encouraging for him to hear straight off that I had a girlfriend. I'm certainly not ashamed of that fact, but the problem is that the minute you tell people that, nine times out of 10 they assume you are a lesbian and that you are monogamous. It's hard to dissuade that assumption in a casual encounter ("My girlfriend's family speaks Russian, and oh, by the way, I'm polyamorous and also open to dating men" - yeah, that works great.)

The real missed opportunity here is that I was given a perfect opening to say all these things because of the movie in my hand at the time. The conversation could have gone something like this:

Man: Do you have any recommendations?

Me: Well, I found this one, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Man: That was one of his better ones.

Me: Woody Allen? Yep, I'm a fan of his. It's also of particular interest to me because of the love triangle story since I'm polyamorous and pansexual.

Man: Really? What does that mean?

Me: Polyamorous means engaging in multiple long-term, consensual loving relationships with different partners at the same time. And pansexual just means I'm non-discriminatory in my choice of partners when it comes to gender. For example, I have a girlfriend, which is why I'm learning Russian as you see, but I could also become involved with another girl, or a guy at some point and she would be supportive - unless she couldn't stand them, that is.

Man: That sounds really interesting. Maybe we can more about it over dinner - can I get your phone number and ask you out sometime?

It's still a lot to say, but you can see that I missed an opportunity here that might have turned into something. But as they say, you learn more from your mistakes than from your successes.

While I'm certainly content to spend as much time as possible with Polina, I know she would like to see me happy with someone else as long as we could continue to cultivate our unique relationship. I've never been enthusiastic about dating, which is why I don't put a lot of effort into it. But I do feel strongly about being open to the possibility of love when it presents itself, and in that respect, I failed miserably tonight. When the goddess offers a gift, it should be accepted with an open heart.

Perhaps this experience tonight will help me do better next time.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The $120,000 apostrophe

On Tuesday I was at work at my desk and I got a call from the chief recruitment officer at Nearing (my company) to come see her at 2 p.m. When I get there, she's on the phone so I go over to chat with one of my friends in the HR pod, and she congratulates me for getting a full-time position. I tell her that I actually haven't gotten an offer yet and she realizes that she's just spilled the beans about the offer I'm about to get.

Loose lips sink ships, I always say.

Anyway, after two months of what was basically a tryout, I accepted an offer to become a full time Nearing employee. I feel like I've been "made" - like a Mafia boss. There are several advantages to this, not the least of which is feeling like I'm a bona fide member of the team and not an outsider, which means I can work on more confidential things. I'm also going to be doing less writing and more PR work, including media work, which is fine with me.

But mostly this is good because Nearing's benefits are better than being a contractor, and I'm eligible for a sizable annual bonus. I'm also eligible for a 3% match on a 401K contribution, an employee stock purchase plan, and most importantly, paid holidays, sick leave and vacation time off. So now I can take days off without impacting my paycheck, although my overall compensation is probably about the same, assuming I didn't take any days off as a contractor.

There's a story going around the communications department that part of the reason I was offered the position was that the communications senior vice president appreciated my attention to detail in editing documents. She is one of the most detail-oriented persons I've ever met, and unfortunately, many of the staff are not so much.

So I was editing a press release one day, and I notice that one of the apostrophes is a straight up-and-down apostrophe and not a "smart" apostrophe - one that is different for open and closed positions. I noted it, and the SVP even found another one in the same paragraph that I missed. But clearly she was impressed that I edit to the same level of detail as she does.

Later on other press releases the SVP would ask staffers if I had reviewed them yet, which people interpreted as me having "editing cred" with her. I also created a flyer for a technology expo that she reviewed with no changes. I didn't think much of that at the time, but later I found out that having something come back from her with no changes is like winning an Olympic gold medal at Nearing's communications department - most people have that happen maybe once or twice a year if they're lucky. She's quite a demanding boss, but she's actually a pretty nice person. She reminds me of my old boss in Houston at TxDOT in a lot of ways.

Anyway, the takeaway for this is that when you do your best, sometimes good things will happen, and with certain people, sometimes a thing so small as changing an apostrophe can land you a six-figure paycheck. You have to know when to sweat the small stuff.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Christmas trees

Every morning I wake up about 6:30 a.m. (or try to) and drive about 70 miles down the length of the state of New Jersey to go to work. This takes me about an hour and 15 minutes on a typical day, or two hours on a bad day. The first 45 minutes is all highways and tollways, and the last 30 minutes are the best because I take back roads through rural farmland around Princeton Junction, which is so beautiful this time of year.

I’ve been driving the same route more or less for about two months now, and along one stretch of two-lane road I pass a Christmas tree farm. When I first passed it, I didn’t take much notice because the trees were small and unrecognizable, but in the past month they have grown up to take the familiar triangular shape. I’ve never seen a Christmas tree farm, so it’s been quite delightful to watch them grow day by day, and I’ve enjoyed saying hello as I pass by.

As some of you know, I tend to employ personification on a lot of things in my daily life – my minivan (Yoshi), my stuffed friends (Oz and my other cubs and pups); even some of my pillows have names. Being alone a lot, I tend to live inside my head and it helps to have an excuse to talk aloud. But seeing this field of trees each day, sometimes I realize that very soon now, many of them will be cut down and taken away and I will be sad to see them go.

It’s a small thing really, but it also reminds me that just because I know something is not going to last forever doesn’t mean I shouldn’t let myself enjoy it or become attached to it, knowing I will miss it someday. I’d rather be hurt than live my life avoiding the possibility of being hurt. Living in the moment is not without risk, but life is a finite and non-renewable resource that must be fully consumed each and every day, or it is lost forever.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Polina's birthday, part 3

On Saturday night Polina and I hosted the first public event for Open Love NY, a combination kick-off meeting and birthday party for her 19th birthday. It’s something we’ve been planning for the past three weeks or so, and the past couple of weekends we’ve been working pretty hard on it. I’m happy to report that everything went off pretty much as planned, and a great time was had by all.

I picked Polina up from my local train station in Montclair Friday night and we stopped at the local diner for dinner. I was amused by two kids in the next booth behind her who couldn’t stop staring at her purple hair. We got home and worked on our donation jars for our three non-profit causes – Cunning Minx’s podcast Polyamory Weekly, Kenneth Haslam’s Polyamory Library at the University of Indiana, and the Jim Collins Foundation (which helps pay for life-altering surgeries for transgender people). We also finalized the event sign-in sheet, survey, donation descriptions and sent out a reminder on Facebook.

Saturday we got a very late start after a relationship check-in talk before getting out of bed in the early afternoon. We had some cereal while waiting for our friend Laura to arrive before we all went out to gather the birthday cake, food and last minute errands, like making copies of the survey and buying a wireless microphone (which we ultimately ended up not using). By the time we got home there was barely enough time to get something to eat, get changed, and load up Yoshi – and we still had to go back once because we forgot Polina’s MacBook that had our music playlist on it.

We were fortunate not to hit too much Saturday night traffic and got to the gallery at about a quarter after 7 p.m., which gave us only 15 minutes to set up. People were already arriving, and there were some gallery customers loitering around, which made things a little hectic and confusing, but we managed to get things set up quickly.

Laura helping set up

We set our table with red pepper hummus and spicy flatbread, a tray of four kinds of sliced cheese and multigrain crackers, stuffed grape leaves and giant green olives stuffed with garlic, guacamole and tortilla chips, and large black seedless grapes. For drinks we had soda and pomegranate blueberry juice. We set out our donation jars at the head of the table, along with short descriptions of each.

Party at Lyons Wier

We cut the music and started our meeting at about 8:45 pm, but people kept trickling in throughout the night. I introduced myself and Buck and we talked a bit about Open Love NY’s reason for being and mission to plan more social events for the polyamorous community of New York. I thanked the gallery owner and our volunteers (which should have included a shout to Laura, who was so helpful the whole day) and we went around the room to introduce ourselves. I had a few more remarks about the survey and then we started the birthday celebration by clearing space at the table for Polina to sit.

While Barbara prepared the candles on the cake, I gave a short speech about Polina and how this event came about because I wanted to do something for her birthday while also helping get OLNY off the ground (something we both were eager to have happen). I talked about how we came from such different backgrounds, and yet managed to find each other through the polyamorous community, and how our community is organized around the idea that we should be free to love openly and honestly.

Speaking from the heart

Barbara brought out the cake, which I had customized with the infinity heart symbol of polyamory (like the pendant I gave her for our anniversary) in purple to match her hair:

Poly birthday cake

The party continued until about 11 p.m., with some people still arriving in the last hour to say hello and happy birthday. We had about 24 people show up altogether, which was very good considering the crappy weather in the city that night. There were lots of old friends, newbies, longtime polys and group hugs all around. It was lots of fun playing hostess, although I did run out of gas a bit near the end and had to take a break or two.


Polina, Laura and I packed everything into Yoshi around midnight and went home to put everything away, have some tea and we watched Chicago on my big screen before going to bed. All in all, it was a very successful event, and I'm proud of our effort in putting it on and seeing it through. Hopefully it will have the desired effect in getting OLNY jump-started - there was already talk about planning a holiday party as our event was winding down.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Polina's birthday, parts 1 and 2

This weekend was Polina’s birthday celebration, and the first time I’ve participated in it fully. As some friends might remark, it was done in true Polina fashion, encompassing my first two-night stayover at her house for all the activities. And despite fighting a progressively nasty cold for most of the weekend, the birthday girl managed to keep her spirits up and bring cheer to everyone around her.

Friday afternoon I left work early because I wanted to get my hair done by Edison while Polina and her friends were en route back from Stony Brook University. Edison and Shirley did their usual fine job of making my hair look its best, with a subtly multi-dimensional dark brown that looks natural yet sophisticated. They also asked about Polina, referring to her as “purple” since they didn’t remember her name, only the color they dyed her hair. Edison is planning to open his own hair studio in a few weeks, so I hope the next time I visit him it will be his name on the door.

I walked over to Whole Foods on Houston Street (where I’ll be on Wednesday for my women’s poly group) to buy some truffles to add to my birthday present, and then drove out to Staten Island. Polina’s mom opened the door for me just after getting off the phone and telling Polina I hadn’t arrived yet. I helped her mom in the kitchen making food by peeling vegetables and practicing my Russian with her until Polina arrived with her dad, middle sister Ella, and three friends from school – Perri, Sammy and Jake. We had Shabbat dinner together then the five of us got settled in the third floor bedroom on three air mattresses.

In the morning all eight of us packed into the family minivan, dropping Ella at Prospect Park in Brooklyn and us in midtown Manhattan near my old office where we had booked a seven-hour block of time at an isolated karaoke bar on 48th Street near 2nd Avenue. We started singing at 1:30 p.m. and the crowd swelled with each passing hour as friends continued to arrive, eventually reaching 15 people.

Kotah, Panda and Anya having fun

From the SBU band there was Jacob and Beth; Polina’s long-time friends Panda, Dakotah (from the Great Adventure Shindig), Anya, and Alina, plus Patrick and his girlfriend Alyssa; and our newer friends Ryan and K-Rob. It was a very diverse group, with a wide variety of musical tastes (and vocal ability) but it was a great time. The band people had fun singing and dancing to their marching pieces, like “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult, “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, “Disturbia” by Rhianna and “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane. I stuck to songs I knew by Linkin Park, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Oasis and Taylor Swift.

I gotta have more cowbell!

Ooops! Forgot to smile

By the time we left, Polina was getting very hoarse and sounding like an 80-year-old woman who smokes two packs a day. The crowd thinned out the way it came together as we walked Sammy and Jake to Penn Station for the trip back to SBU before most of the rest of us went to a Korean restaurant for a late dinner. I had a kim chee stew and spicy hand roll sushi, which was very tasty.


By the end of the night, Jacob, Beth, Anya, Panda and Kotah comprised the second wave of overnight guests, accompanying us back to Staten Island. Beth and Jacob left early in the morning to catch a matinee show of Avenue Q, while the rest of us started the day slowly. Polina’s voice was totally gone in the morning, so she was reduced to using handwritten signs like a stroke victim:

What's your sign?

Most of the day Polina’s family (eldest sister Sophia and husband Robert and grandparents trickled in) made food and desserts for her birthday party while Panda, Kotah, Anya, Polina and I hung out and did various things. I went out for a bit with Robert and Ella to throw a Frisbee around in Miller Park, and Kotah had to leave early. By about 4 p.m. we were ready to start the party and it was a very long table of food:

Princess Penny

Polina still couldn’t speak very loudly, so I acted as her “translator” – she would write down what she wanted to say and I would address it to the appropriate person down the table or announce it to the group. For presents, Polina got a vintage bicycle to take with her back to school, some Origins bath products, a book called "The Crow-Girl" and my present of a “Cognito Ergo Nom” t-shirt, organic lip balm and her favorite shade of lip stick from my collection at home (since I feel somewhat responsible for the upkeep of her lips), and a box of chocolate truffles. Her grandfather also gave her money, as grandparents typically do. She had also received a bonsai tree from Beth and some other presents from friends the night before.

Birthday Napoleon

After dinner Polina and I went upstairs and recorded a quick 80-second audio promo talking about the upcoming Open Love NY event next Saturday, which will be used on an upcoming podcast of Polyamory Weekly. I did most of the talking since her voice was so ragged but at least she was audible. And by the way, her illness didn’t stop us from being affectionate this weekend, so we’ll see if my reputed constitution passes the test.

I was going through my emails from last year around this time for her birthday and we had just had our first date (more of a hanging out together kind of thing) at the MIX Festival a week or two prior so we were just getting to know each other. It took upwards of 18 emails back and forth to work out all the logistics and details of meeting up with Laura for my surprise visit to MOMA. Also, I didn’t know her well enough to pick out a present, so we went shoe shopping together with Laura and Patrick.

It is with no small amount of wonder that I look back only one year ago at how much my life has changed in respect to my relationship with her. Of course, I should be used to big changes in my life by now, but still, we've come a long way in just one year. To honor that first birthday, I thought it was a nice tradition to have her pick out something for herself for birthdays (the Questionable Content t-shirt) in addition to whatever I feel I can surprise her with, since she enjoys surprises.

Part 3 of the two-weekend birthday celebration starts on Saturday - stay tuned.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Happy Birthday Polina!

This Sunday was Polina’s birthday, and we spent pretty much the whole weekend together which is why I’m posting this a day late. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to write a recap of all our adventures soon (although not tonight since I’m going to Poly Cocktail Hour in the city).

As I usually do in my blogs, I try to say a few nice things about people on their birthdays. Last year she escaped this tradition because we had only just met. As a side note, I was just realizing that with my last three relationships, I met each of them right around this time of year - October/November. And of course this year, I’m very happy to be able to say a few words about my sweetie.

I know Polina doesn’t necessarily like reading about the qualities in her that I find so attractive, but it’s hard for me to be objective since I’m so fond of her. I suppose one way to say it is that I see a lot of Agnieszka Prime in her, which I know means very little to anyone reading this. Sometimes people just have a certain charisma, an energy to them that is responsive to your own. You see something in them that touches a part of you and a connection is made. From there, you continue to find small links to each other, and like strands upon strands of tiny spider webs, each little thing builds upon the others to form a strong bond.

For us, our initial connection was obviously formed through polyamory, and then through identifying as pansexual and transgender, and to a lesser extent through a shared spiritual philosophy. We’ve reinforced our bond with books (Laurell K. Hamilton, Tamora Pierce, Tom Robbins), TV shows (Firefly, True Blood), music (Linkin Park, Paramore) and late night talks over hot chocolate. Polyamory and being involved in the poly community in New York continues to be the main driver of our relationship and the requisite open communication is the glue that keeps it from falling apart in the face of our many differences.

Some of our differences work for us instead of against us. People tell me that Polina has an old soul, and it is true she is remarkably mature for her age. I’m the opposite, being very young at heart for my age, for reasons that should be quite obvious to those who know me. Our inverted biological and emotional ages tend to cancel each other out and make our age difference less of an issue for us than it would be for most couples. It also gives us some fluidity and freedom in how we act toward each other – we take turns being parental or filial toward each other, although we generally treat each other like most girlfriends do as equals.

So what qualities do I like about her? She makes me laugh; she has a refreshing sense of humor. As I’ve mentioned before, she can be bold in expressing affection toward me. She shares my core philosophies of being true to oneself, living in the moment and loving unconditionally. She is a frank and honest communicator, and she appreciates that quality in me. We make a really good team, with our respective strengths and weaknesses complementing each other – I forget what our Myers-Briggs scores are, but we do seem to mesh well together when we embark on a common goal. We have lots of fun together with whatever we’re doing, whether alone or with other people. And for me, seeing her smile is as beautiful and warming as the sunrise after a long autumn night.

Happy Birthday, my dearest Polina - you are the star by which my heart navigates me through life.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Upcoming poly events

It is shaping up to be a busy week for me, with Poly Cocktail Hour at China 1 on Monday, Nov. 9, our Women's Poly Group meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 11, then our Open Love NY party on the 14th. Polina and I spent most of Saturday afternoon and evening working on stuff for the OLNY party - it's going to be a lot of fun.

For those of you on Facebook, we have created a page on the Open Love NY site on the event, which you can find here.