Say Your Big Dreams Out Loud

Today I turn 39. That’s a big number. For me, 38 has been a year of becoming bolder and thinking bigger. It’s been a year of learning to own my dreams and to believe in them. It’s been a year and a half since I began writing a memoir. It’s been almost that long since I registered the Trivial Circumstances domain name, unsure WHAT I would do with it but more certain about WHY. Writing used to be something I did in the wee, dark hours of the morning, quiet and alone. Writing was a solitary activity and I liked it that way. I wrote things I wanted to share, but sharing was the end result, not part of the process.

Last May, I was frustrated with my life the way it was where I was. I flew down to Seattle and Portland to be a tourist and visit friends. I was also considering moving. I wanted change in my life that was radical enough that I was considering selling my house and joining the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, stationed in Seattle. If I’d been able to get more money for my house, I would have done it. Writing was big to me, but I didn’t see it as the direction of my life. Doing big things meant doing them FOR OTHER PEOPLE. Exclusively. That’s what Christians do, right?

One stop on my trip was with a friend from college who has become a successful writer (like, multiple bestsellers successful). I wanted to talk to him about writing, but instead I made some excuses and ran away right after dinner with his family. I was intimidated. I felt like my own dreams and efforts didn’t matter much in the face of so much success. Why would I presume to waste his time? Never mind that this friend and his wife had made me dinner and shared their joyfully chaotic family life with me for the evening. Never mind that they would have been happy to talk with me about anything, really. They’re lovely people. I let the fears in my head get to me in a big way.

I shared this with Rebecca, another college friend I was visiting. I shared my writing dreams, my insecurities around my successful writer friend, my embarrassment over my insecurity. A few weeks after I got home, I received a package from her in the mail. It had some amazing 90s Star Trek stationery (!), a pencil that said “You Got This,” and a card that says “Say Your Big Dreams Out Loud”. She wrote me a note about being happy to be “seeding” my project. I can’t tell you how much that package meant to me. It was the beginning of sharing my dreams with the world. And what I found was that, when I feel inspired, I can share that inspiration with others. They LIKE it. When I’m excited, people want to be a part of my dreams. How cool is that?

From Rebecca’s encouraging seed, my writing has grown from a solo endeavor to a socially engaged activity. Sharing my writing has gone from something I dreaded to one of my favorite things about it. It’s not just that I talk to more people about what I do, involving others is quickly becoming and integral part of my art. Here are some highlights:

  • This blog, of course. Being able to write my heart and hear from people who are on the same path is life-changing for me. And I’ve really only been at it in earnest for about two months. I can’t wait to see what comes of it over the next year.
  • I’m helping start and lead the Creative Collective, an  organization for artists of all shapes and stripes. We meet once a month to inspire and help each other. People re-arrange their work schedules to come to this thing. We did our first showcase a few weeks ago, and it was AMAZING. Nearly 100 people came and everyone had so much fun we had to shoo people out the door after. Every month, someone does what we’re calling a “mini master class.” I’m on deck for May. I’ll be dusting off some of my art theory brain cells from grad school to do a talk about the presence of the artist in art. I couldn’t be more excited.
  • In the last two months, I’ve performed twice at one of the largest performance venues in the state. Twice. Once acting (which is hilarious to me) and once telling a story I wrote. Remember: a year ago I could barely even bring myself to tell people I was writing a book. Now I’m sharing my stories with hundreds of people (thousands if you count the radio broadcast and podcast).
  • I have three people on deck to start a Trivial Circumstances interview-style podcast! I know nothing about creating podcasts, but I already know it’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait to help other people share their stories. What an honor.

From Rebecca to my friend who writes to me about EVERY blog post to supportive co-workers to my writing critique group to people who find me at church just to tell me my writing meant something to them, I’m beginning to understand what acknowledgements section of a book is all about. I cannot do this by myself, nor would I want to.

I suppose you could look at all this and dismiss it as a craving for recognition or attention. Sometimes I think that might be it. But what I’m learning is that so much of the value I find in creating has come from the meaning my creation has for other people, the work it inspires them to do themselves. It’s not that I care that much about people thinking I’m awesome. What’s incredible is seeing the fire that starts in them when it’s ignited by my spark.

Art isn’t meant to function in a vacuum. Dreams aren’t something we’re meant to carry alone. They have a life of their own, a life that requires care and cultivation from more than one person. I hope that 39 is the year when I can empower others in their dreams and creativity the way Rebecca and others have empowered me.

Polyamory & the Pence Rule

I started out this blog series intending to blog about sex every day for a month. It’s been well over a month, and I haven’t come close to blogging every day. That’s just WAY more writing than I can handle. I’m just going to continue on the topic, posting at random intervals until I get tired of it. How does that sound? 🙂

As I’ve been writing on sex, I’ve gotten a lot of reading suggestions from friends. I’ve been reading as voraciously as it’s possible for a slow reader to do. This suggestion from an old friend (who knows my background very well) was one of the more intriguing ones:

This is going to be an odd suggestion, and you are of course welcome to ignore it, but… The best sex/relationship advise I have heard since the end of my marriage has nearly all come out of the polyamorous/ethical nonmonogamy world. Which, may sound odd, but the thing is, in order to balance multiple relationships, you have to first think far more deeply about relationships than most people ever do to begin with, and then you wind up with far more practical experience than most ever get.

Based on his recommendation, I’ve been reading The Smart Girl’s Guide to Polyamory, Everything You Need to Know About Open Relationships, Non-Monogamy, and Alternative Love by Dedeker WinstonI want to make something really clear from the beginning of this post: polyamory is not something that’s on the table for me. It’s just not. Moral questions aside, I’m just not built that way. I could spill some serious ink on that, but I’ll save it for another time.

So, with that out of the way, can I say that my friend was spot on? Can I call myself a polyamorist who doesn’t believe in having multiple sex partners at the same time? The book wasn’t just packed with really good, practical advice for dealing with people (I learned more from this book about good arguments than I have almost anywhere else), there were a ton of things I agreed with on a more philosophical level. I’ll probably write more posts about this, but the huge point of agreement that leapt out at me was this:

The way our culture treats monogamous relationships saddles them with too much and deprives us of significant benefits from other relationships.

One of the beautiful parts of Smart Girl’s Guide was when Winston wrote about how much love there is to be found everywhere. How polyamorists don’t like to tie themselves to one person because there are so many amazing people in the world, because no one person will meet all of your needs. Smart Girl’s Guide talks about raising children in communities, about open lines of communication between multiple partners, about going to one person to meet some needs and another for others. That reminds me of how I’ve learned to live my life, first out of necessity but now out of appreciation for the richness of my life with so much love from all sides. Spending years in a non-functioning marriage sucked, but one thing it did do for me was force me to look for healthy, supporting relationships outside of that one relationship and to appreciate the power of platonic touch. (I also pursued less healthy alternatives, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)

If you pursue it, there is a wealth of relationship to be had. I won’t pretend I’m great at this, but it is something I value and appreciate and put effort into. I’m not currently in a romantic relationship, but I have friends I can turn to in emergencies. I have a whole flock of people who will give me long hugs or hold my hand when I need it. (One friend has a 20-second minimum for hugs. It’s the best.) There are people who cook for me when I’m sick and check in on me when I’m down. People who have held me so tightly when I cried that I got snot in their hair. (Yeah, that’s happened. Twice. You’ve been warned.)

When I talk to friends all over the country, it is clear that my experience is tragically exceptional. Our culture is suffering from a deep, pervasive poverty of relationships. I’ve stopped counting the number of friends who have told me they are chronically lonely. Stay-at-home moms and retirees who barely have contact with the world outside their homes other than Facebook. People who don’t have friends other than their spouses. Sure, some of that can be personality driven. Some people are super introverted and they are happy that way. That’s fine, and it’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about people who are lonely, isolated, and deeply, deeply unhappy.

What does that have to do with sex? Well, I’m glad you asked. The common thread I see between the polyamory book and evangelical “purity culture” is that both associate that kind of closeness primarily with sexual relationships (inside or outside of marriage). Smart Girl jumps to the conclusion that, since we should be pursuing deeper relationships with more people, we should also be having sex with them. Purity culture guards carefully against all kinds of extramarital relationships because it sees any intimacy as a stepping stone to sex. Think about the Pence/Billy Graham Rule, that implies that men and women shouldn’t be alone together under any circumstances because it’s dangerous to their marriages. I have married friends who don’t text or email friends of the opposite sex without including their spouse in the conversation.

Those are unfortunately not uncommon, but one less common rule I’ve heard of that is worth mentioning because boils my blood is a 3-second limit on hugs. Between anyone.(Old news, I know. But still annoying.) WHAT ON GOD’S GREAT EARTH IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE IF THEY CAN’T HUG ANYONE WITHOUT FEELING FRISKY? I mean, am I crazy to think that most physical touch can and should be platonic? (Seriously, even in a romantic relationship, how much touch time is spent on sex? Shouldn’t there be just as much time holding hands and snuggling on the couch and sleeping in each other’s arms? I’m a big fan of sex, but other physical contact across all kinds of relationships is also great. I want both!!) Okay, I’m done ranting…

So… let’s consider that we evangelicals may be addressing a culture that is relationally malnourished by cutting back its food. If I thought I needed to have sex with people to have those kinds of close relationships, I would. Oh wait, I HAVE. Having started an affair over text message, I will tell you right now that lax rules about texting weren’t the heart of the problem. The heart was loneliness. When well-meaning friends told me, “take these guys numbers off your phone!” that’s pretty much what I told them. If I’m starving, locking the refrigerator isn’t going to help when there’s a store right down the street.

I don’t think rampant infidelity (particularly in the church) is a problem created by easy access. I think it stems, in part, from thinking it is only (or even mainly) romantic relationships that will feed our need, then limiting other relationships to protect The Sacred One. We are afraid because our romantic relationships aren’t what they should be, so we elevate them by digging a deep trench around them, carving away, diminishing, even eliminating other relationships. When we’re trying to keep the bad stuff out, we’re keeping the good out, too. When we put all of our eggs in the one rather unrealistic relationship basket, we’re contributing to a toxically lonely environment for ourselves.

I think healthy friendships make for healthy partners make for healthy partnerships. I think it’s very possible that normalizing platonic friendships between men and women and building more community in general makes cheating less enticing. If I don’t depend on one relationship to meet all my needs, I won’t give up on it so readily. And–dare I say it?–it seems like sex should be better when it’s an expression of joy overflowing from the life I have rather than an act of desperate grasping for the one I don’t…