I published an essay called “What It Feels Like to Watch Trump as a Sexual Abuse Survivor” in Vice in the wake of the video documenting Trump’s sickening bragging comments about grabbing women’s pussies. As the headline indicates, publishing this essay was no small thing for me. Publishing this piece was the result of five years of my own personal work to be even able to name that this incident happened to me, understand how it’s affected me, and to then write about it in a national magazine. Wow. Healing the effects of sexual abuse and assault is actually a big theme in my current writing project Wet and in my work coaching women. And even in the Tango Adventure, because I’m using tango as a way to help women reconnect with lost parts of themselves, their sexuality and sensuality chief among them. These are parts of us that get stolen from us when we live in a culture where we don’t feel safe, but confidence and sensuality are important and powerful–it’s our birthright to feel good and feel pleasure in our bodies. Here’s the essay. Check it out and let me know what you think. Originally the essay attracted some terrible haters but then my quirkyalone readers came to the rescue with fabulous comments. You’ll see.
I was driving back from the smog check, and I felt myself fighting just the slightest tears. I felt that lump in my throat, knowing, yes, I have reached the point of no return. I’m paying $50 for a smog check and that means this is it, after much resistance, I am selling Martha, my 2007 Toyota Corolla, a solid presence in my life since 2008 when I bought her pre-owned.
Martha. Yes, she has a name. Do all owners give their cars names, like they give their pets names? Do all car owners get so attached to their cars? I don’t have a pet, or a child, but I named my car. Why would I be crying for 2,800 pounds of metal, steel, and plastic? My friend Liz told me I should write about Martha because I way I talk about her, like she is a person in my life. So I am.
First, some basic facts: who is Martha and why am I getting rid of her? Martha was my first car. I bought Martha when I was 34, relatively old to buy a first. I bought Martha during a period of big change in my life, when I went from writer to Silicon Valley product manager. I made more money and needed a car. Having a car felt like a luxury, a big step up the economic ladder. The name Martha just came to me. I wanted a sturdy, reliable car and Martha felt like a sturdy, reliable name.
Since then my life changed. I left Silicon Valley and I’ve spent three of the last eight years in South America writing, coaching/consulting, and dancing tango. I’ve held on to Martha for all these years, having friends drive her paying the insurance while I’m away, because I loved having Martha to come home to when I would be back in the Bay Area, sometimes as long as a year and a half. Recently I committed to living in Argentina to write a second draft of my memoir. Rationally it doesn’t make sense anymore to keep paying the registration and maintenance. It’s time to let go.
Even so, there is clinging to the past. To Martha! We say change is good but change is also hard. If we are honest, we are to some degree ambivalent about most things. Most things have good and bad in them. Change means giving up some things while you gain others. There’s the job you hate but the paycheck you love. The spouse you love and the spouse you can’t live with. There is a grieving process for most changes whether it’s leaving a place, a job, a person, or an object. Objects too have so many memories and emotions attached to them.
Liz told me Martha was replaceable, “She’s a white Corolla. You can get another white Corolla when you come back. It’s not an uncommon car.” I say, “No, those other cars won’t have Martha’s bumps and scratches. Those particularities.” Liz says, “We can dent the new car with golf balls and scratch it to replicate the damage.” I laugh, “OK, we can do that.”
There is soul in the history of an object, in the meanings we give our things over the years. The history is in those imperfections. I put the dent on the car in the first year when I was clumsy parking in a tight garage in San Francisco. At first I was ashamed that I had messed up my car so quickly. Then I decided the dents and scratches made my car unique. I could recognize her in a parking lot easily. That was an important revelation that made me feel better about my own dents and scratches.
I keep thinking of Liz’s implicit question, why does this car mean so much to me? She was more than a car to me. Martha and I had a long-term relationship of eight years, and a long-distance relationship for three of those years. For three of those years I was in South America. She was okay with me leaving and coming back, she never broke down when I went away. The car was an anchor. It’s the mobility, the status, but also the constancy: Perhaps Martha was one of my rocks. She gave me the freedom to roam and always welcomed me back with open arms.
When it finally came time to post the ad, and start showing Martha to buyers, I was nervous to show her. What if people felt different about her than I did? I posted realistic photos on Craigslist and got 30 emails, I showed her to four people and two out of four her wanted her. There’s nothing like having your car be wanted.
The lucky buyer was Jan, a mom buying the car for her twentysomething son Joaquin. I met Jan and Joaquin on a Friday afternoon to complete the transaction. It was time to hand over the keys.
I told Joaquin, “The car is special, so take good care of her. She is very soulful and she has a lot of care-taking qualities. Her name is Martha.” His eyes widened either impressed or freaked out but his mom Jan seemed taken with the name. “Like George and Martha Washington,” she said, as if this had some meaning to them. Yes.
We walked outside and I passed the key to Joaquin, the official handoff. I said to Jan, “I feel like I’m giving away my baby.”
She said, “We would call Family Services if you were selling your baby for $6600.”
I felt a little embarrassed and said, “I know, but it’s emotional.”
She said, “I know what you mean. When I sold my car I felt choked up too.”
So I walked home four blocks, saying goodbye to Martha, and also, hello to an unknown future. Having grieved already I felt more ready for the new chapter, come what may, whether that includes a future car or not. I felt lighter for having been courageous enough to let go. I felt free.
Goodbye to All that is a nod to Joan Didion’s landmark 1967 essay about leaving New York, “Goodbye to All That.”
There was no doubt in my mind that I would see the movie Brooklyn and in the theater as soon as it came out last fall. You know when a movie comes out and it speaks to you to your core, or to some question you have shivering in your soul, you know that you will plunk down $10 to see the movie. So it was with Brooklyn for me.
A tale of a woman torn between two countries, Brooklyn is the story of a small-town Irish girl who comes to New York City from Ireland in the ’50s and falls for a young Italian plumber. She doesn’t come to New York because of famine or oppression. She comes to escape the narrowness of her small-town upbringing and the limited opportunities she finds at home. On a trip back home she feels a strong pull back to Ireland, to her family, roots, and a new Irish love interest. The movie, based on the novel by Colm Toibn, nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, is shimmering, subtle and yet emotionally exquisite.
When I walked out of the movie theater, dazed and happy in the movie’s glow, for the movie is a story of one woman’s pursuit of happiness, I distinctly remember seeing the words “achieving home” together in one of the movie reviews about the film.
Now I Google, looking for those words “achieving home” in the movie reviews to retrace my steps to the idea of achieving home but I do not find them.
The word combination “achieving home” made an impact on me even if I imagined them—the idea that home is an achievement rang as absolutely true. If you are a wanderer, a searcher, like me or the main character of Brooklyn Eilis Lacey, home is an achievement because it takes guts and time to choose, to try different places and know that each promised future dangling based on a place has its pros and cons, its dreams and its downsides, and commitment to roots is itself an achievement. I knew that I was struggling to achieve home myself, and perhaps, always will be to some extent.
I have “achieved home” in the last few weeks. After five years of splitting my time between the Bay Area and Buenos Aires, Argentina, I have decided to make Buenos Aires my primary place for the next 12 months at least, enough time to make progress on my book and grow the Tango Adventure while continuing to offer my coaching services.
The decision came with waves: first the doubt that lived with me for years about what to do, growing finally after enough consideration and research of options to finally a solid decision that I could actually feel as true in my body (when things actually feel settled in my body I know they are true than when they are just mental). Then came euphoria at having committed, then some remorse, knowing Buenos Aires is not perfect and there are things that I miss out on by being away from the Bay Area.
And yet, the decision feels excellent to announce. I am achieving home, in a place and perhaps most of all in my ability to commit to myself, to my intuition, to my belief in my dreams.
With this achievement of home, I cannot help but point out a difference in my story. The movie’s main character chooses between places but ultimately she is choosing between men who want to marry her. It is not that I do not want to marry, or be in love, but in my choice, I am not rushing into the arms of a man who will be my husband. I may very well meet him here in the next year, but it is something else entirely to be a woman choosing destiny based holistically on what makes you happy, what makes you come alive, and not because there is a man at the other end of the airplane travel to welcome you.
This fear has been a demon all along, the fear that if I choose my most alive life this is somehow “impractical” and will negate the possibility of love and marriage. I know this sounds “crazy” coming from the author of Quirkyalone who waves the flag for everyone who chooses to be single rather than settle, but I tell you the truth. It’s gotten too boring for me to not tell the truth. For a whole year after breaking up with a boyfriend in the Bay Area the demon of practicality told me that it was statistically more likely I would find my partner there, even when I felt that being in California was not the right choice for me now.
This choice of home is an extra achievement because I do it as a woman alone. With the hope that making the best decision for me brings the best possible future. I do it knowing that it is my responsibility, my risk, that no one can guarantee anything but this was the best choice for me. So I decide happily too. And I feel the achievement of home, most of all, within myself.
When people ask me how I got my start as a writer, I say Cupsize. Cupsize was the stapled-and-photocopied zine that I wrote with my friend Tara Emelye. We wrote our zine back in the nineties before the Internet took off, when email was still exotic and blogs did not yet exist. The Internet has been a huge force for my work to take off, especially quirkyalone, but there was such an amazing power in making something tactile like a paper zine.
Tara and I called our zine Cupsize to ironically reclaim our ample bosoms. Our zine wasn’t about women’s issues, per se, but we were young women and we wrote honestly about our lives. We wrote Cupsize when we were in college. I also wrote for newspapers and magazines. It was thrilling to see my byline on the cover of the Village Voice, but it was really through Cupsize that I learned how to just say it. To explore whatever called to me. Tara and I had a great creative chemistry and we egged each other on, whether we were writing about the taste of grape soda or visiting a peep show in Times Square, bisexual chic or feminism and class.Read More
Poignant tango moment last night in a cab. I had gone to Villa Malcolm Cachirulo and it was awful from the start. Nowhere to sit, no host to seat me, so many women sitting at tables with hard expressions of waiting. I had only gone once before and had a beautiful night there but this time I felt totally invisible. My thought was, I do not go out on a Saturday night to suffer, so after five tandas of sitting and waiting I decided to leave.
On the street I decided to give Milonga 10 a try which was better.
I took a cab home and when I got in the cab the driver told me he saw me at Cachirulo.
“Disfrutaste?” I asked. “Did you enjoy it?”
“Baile.” he said. “I danced.”
I didn’t dance, I told him. I proceeded to tell him about all the reasons I did not like Cachirulo last night, including the feeling of desperation of waiting to be chosen, how frustrating that can feel. I felt invisible, I said.
“I saw you,” he said.
“Did you see me?” he asked.
“No,” I had to admit. And I wondered if I had even been looking at anyone at all, maybe I just gave up from the start.
“Letting go of the strain of yearning was a relief, like stretched elastic retracting.”–Tessa Hadley, “Experience,” The New Yorker, January 21, 2013
I have been thinking for the last 24 hours about what a relief–and even a blessing–it can be to be rejected. How liberating really.
You see, I had a crush. A crush that was bothering me. I wondered if I had been clear enough. If I had done all I could to show my interest. Maybe he was a shy guy. Maybe I would have to really put myself out there. Showing my interest felt like a to-do list item to cross off to make him really know that I was interested.
So I chatted him up. I told him, I have a story to tell you. And he acted like he was interested and then he got quickly bored and abruptly latched on to another woman walking by. He acted like I was telling a very boring story and I do not tell boring stories. Ha. What happened was not so important. What was important was the knowledge: this man is not interested. And obviously I/we want the person who is interested.
At first I felt a hot flash of humiliation. What? How could you so abruptly cut off our conversation to talk with another woman? Then I realized, I could stop thinking I need to do something about this crush! He had made it so clear; I could move on. My crush could shrivel up and die leaving space in my brain (and soul) for other crushes to take root. Fantasies about other people, or other places, or other things. I actually felt so cleansed. It was hard to believe but after an hour of feeling dejected I felt light and free.
The hidden plus side of rejection is this impetus for movement. Get out of endless fantasy, collide with reality, and see what happens. Act on the crush, business idea, creative project, travel plan. If you fail, great, you can move on to the next person, thing, crush, place, dream.
There must be something about my “energy” that is radiating out in the world, “I want a Tantric lover.”
I have a completely bizarre (or amazing) tendency to attract Argentine men who on our first meeting sit across from the table from me and tell me–at length–about their knowledge of Tantra. This has now happened twice in a row in one month. I hardly know what to say. “Great!” “We just met!” I know they are trying to impress me but it feels fast. They want me to know I know they are not like all the other Argentine men. Typical Argentines, they say, want to score with as many women as possible to prove their masculinity.
A male tango teacher used the word “horny” to describe Buenos Aires. “Sexy” would be nice, but “horny”? “Horny” sounds like a city of teenage boys. Everyone is on the prowl for sex, but I get the sense (especially from talking to these chaps) that the norm for sex is traditional and fast. It’s a macho culture.
These non-macho men tell me about how most heterosexuals orient sex toward men’s needs. Until men realize that women have more sexual energy then men, and orient sex around women (learning how to make sex slower and more sensual, and to delay ejaculation), women will not be satisfied and men will have a cheaper version of sex than what’s possible. Read More
My tango journey continues and it teaches me so much about life. I’m writing about my revelations through tango for my new book so those are still getting formed and I’m excited to share them with you–not because everyone needs to learn tango to grow, but as an example of how we can grow in many surprising ways when we dedicate ourselves to something we love. Tango happens to be particularly rich because it offers so many metaphors about being strong in yourself and intimate with another. For now I will share a recent dance with you . . . this took place in Buenos Aires but I’m dancing with a Colombian teacher.
It’s my two-year anniversary of discovering one of the bigger passions in my life, tango. I was just in Cali, Colombia, the place where I serendipitously discovered tango, this past week and danced again with my original teachers. So I am fresh with the impression of my “before and after”–I am struck by how much progress I have made in two years. Which leads me to consider how we make progress in life. Making progress in tango has not been a matter of grim work and determination. I’ve made progress because I discovered something that I genuinely love. That’s where we shine the most, where we practice the things we love.
Here is my dance when I started in 2010 (the one isn’t even so bad–there are much more awkward ones that never made it to YouTube!):
And here is a video from this past week in Cali, two years later. I still have miles to go but I have come far:
I am rarely so dedicated to a hobby. I don’t think I even had a hobby before tango. I wanted one.
From the very first moment that I saw tango performed in Cali, Colombia, I fell in love. With the sense of connection between two human beings. The beauty of it. And luckily, I quickly found a teacher, Carlos Paredes, who insisted that tango is all about love. When we dance, he whispers, “Love me, love me.” Not because he is coming on to me (I wish–he’s adorable!) but because he teaches that love is a way to listen to your partner; to love is a way to relax and feel another human being. When we feel love in the dance, we feel a different kind of relaxed bliss. I rarely get that perspective in San Francisco where the classes are more focused on technique. And yet I have only been able to be so consistent in taking classes and practicing because I found something that makes me feel so good, that gives me a high, that has taught me so much about myself on and off the dance floor. I can only be dedicated to things that I really love.
I use tango as a guide for how to live my life in general. For example, I seek to find the same sense of concentration and absorption when I write, or when I am spending time with someone I care about. To love a person is this way is to be relaxed, attentive, and absorbed. I don’t always achieve that, but I use the way I feel in a great tango as a benchmark, as a place to aim. And I can see that anything I do gets better and better when I infuse and polish that thing with love.
Earlier this year I stumbled on a website for a seven-week online course Calling in the One. The website looked pink and frilly. Not for me. Then I listened to a free call from the creators Katherine Woodward Thomas and Claire Zammit and immediately I knew this course was for me. Why? They described my situation to a tee.
Yearning for a great love relationship and at the same time in despair about my ability to actually attract and sustain one.
I signed up for their seven-week course last June. The course absolutely rocked my world and gave me so much insight into myself and my patterns in love. In painful ways. Painful and necessary. I grew so much by taking this course. They are opening up another session of this October and registration is still open until Thursday, October 11, so I want to share this course with you now and encourage you to take it.
Their message is profound and simple. The real obstacles to attracting love are not outside us, but within us.Read More