Forgiveness

for·give: [fer-giv]  verb (used with object)

1. to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.

2. to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).

3. to grant pardon to (a person).

4. to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies.

5. to cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.

 

verb (used without object)

6. to pardon an offense or an offender.

Origins: The root of “forgive” is the Latin word “perdonare,” meaning “to give completely, without reservation.” (That “perdonare” is also the source of our English “pardon.”) When the Latin “perdonare” was adopted into the Germanic ancestor of English, it was translated piece-by-piece, making the result what linguists call a “calque” (from the French “calquer,” to trace or copy) a literal transliteration. “Per” was replaced by “for,” a prefix that in this case means “thoroughly,” and “donare” with “giefan” (“to give”). The result, “forgiefan,” appeared in Old English meaning “to give up, allow” as well as “to give in marriage.” In modern English, “forgive” has also taken on the meanings of “to pardon for an offense,” “renounce anger at” (“I forgive you for feeding bean tacos to my dog “) and “to abandon a claim on” (as in “forgive a debt”).

arabic Rumi poem

TRANSLATION:

Forgive me, that I cannot sleep; forgive

The thirsty ones that they have no water.

Forgive: if you never know forgiveness,

You’ll never know the blessings that God gives.

– Rumi

I’m not a very forgiving person.

It’s funny for me to type that, because there is a huge part of me that thinks I am extremely forgiving. I think of myself as a person always willing to be the bigger person, to pardon for an offense as described above. But as I step back and look at myself as objectively as I can, and as I look at some of my actions in the past with people I’ve cared for I have to be honest…I’m not. Not really and truly. I am definitely understanding, but not really forgiving.

FORGIVENESS DOVE

As I try to face this particular thing about myself, my justifications quickly come to my defense. I think of how patient I am with people – or how patient I think I am. I think about how much time I spend trying to understand other people’s perspectives and points of view and motivations for whatever they say or do.  I think of how much I have often tolerated out of a sense of fairness, loyalty or devotion to someone or something, without complaint or consideration. How can I say I don’t forgive in light of all that? And while all of these things are true, these things are exactly why forgiveness is so hard for me – I feel that after having extended myself to such lengths with a person, if they still can’t get it right, they don’t deserve my forgiveness. I turn my back on them and everything to do with them, totally and completely. To make matters worse, I typically do this by writing a very stinging “fuck you” letter or email.

Why does this make matters worse? It makes matters worse because evidently I write extremely memorable, harsh, “fuck you” letters. My “fuck you” letters strike the heart and draw blood like a sharp blade. Don’t believe that old adage that says words can never hurt you; I got words that can top any damage sticks and stones could ever do. It only stands to reason I have this gift, because I am a writer. But because I am a writer, and I’m surrounded by other writers, I don’t think of my gift as a particularly unusual or lethal one. So when I unleash it, to me its just average, run of the mill stuff. Not so much to others. Everyone I have ever known who I’ve written a fuck you letter/email to has kept that letter for years after I wrote it. Even after I reconciled with the person they were still able to pull out that letter, show it to me, and tell me in great detail how much it hurt them literally years after the letter/email was sent. In the cases where I didn’t reconcile with the person, I often found that other mutual friends/acquaintances we had would often tell me about the “fuck you” letter/email I’d written; the person I’d written it to had told them about it or even showed it to them in many cases. I even had one friend claim they went into therapy a week after receiving one of my “fuck you” letters. It is always amazing to me to see the power of my words – even when I factored in that this was a person I was close to, so of course my words would naturally hurt more than someone else’s words. But I have had this happen with casual acquaintances as well. In fact once a snarky response I made to a co-worker via email that was particularly acerbic and sarcastic got me free lunch for a week from several of my other co-workers who didn’t like the colleague I had responded to. As this happened to me over and over, as I am finding people remember my harsh commentary in particular with a great deal of emphasis, I have tried to be mindful of the power my words possess – unfortunately without much success.

in other news

I was reminded of all this when talking to one of my best friends. He was asking me how I had been doing since my most recent breakup, and I hold him I was doing okay all things considered. He was never in favor of me ending the relationship; he felt I had acted much too hastily in dealing with the young man and told me to leave some space in my heart for him in case an opportunity to reconcile presented itself at some point in the future.  He asked me if I was open to reconciliation and I said “well he’d have to approach me with a serious apology and some serious plans for us, but I’d hear him out, sure.” He then asked if I would approach him if I wanted to reconcile. I said, “well I’ve tried. When we first argued and broke up I tried calling, emailing, texting. He didn’t respond. At all. He hasn’t responded. At all.” My friend suggested that perhaps my ex was still just very angry and upset, and he asked if I would consider re-approaching the situation down the road. I said, “truthfully, I don’t think so. I already feel so rejected by him. He’s never been very forgiving. To him it’s a sign of weakness; it means you’ve let someone get away with something. I don’t know if I could bear that. I don’t think I would have the nerve.” And then my friend said, “well Tula, you may have to forgive him of not being open to you initially. You know how harsh you can be when ending something; some of the things you say really cut deep.”

not as great as I thought

I really couldn’t refute that, because he knows firsthand about that harshness. While he is one of my best friends, and has been for a few years now, we only reconciled in the last year or so.  Yes, he is my rock and I talk to him at least 3-4 times a week, but at one time he and I went years without speaking because of something I was angry with him about. I don’t even remember what it was now. But at the time it was serious to me, and I remember sending him a “fuck you” email. While I don’t remember what I said, whatever it was kept him far away from me for a very long time – and he was one of my closest friends. It took him over 2 years to very tentatively reach out to me, and even then I rebuffed him very harshly. It took me going through a huge emotional downward spiral to bring us back together. I was in a horribly dark, awful place at the time, feeling like I was drowning but knowing I did not want to drown. So I began reaching out for anyone and everyone who could save me, who could help me save myself. So one evening, tears flooding my eyes, I sent him an email saying “I know I’ve been awful to you. But I need you. I need your help. I’m drowning. If you ever cared for me, please reach back.” He called me within the hour, and he let me cry in his ear for hours that night (and for many days afterwards), while he was at work, driving home from work, driving to work, running errands, or whatever he was doing. He was so forgiving in fact he didn’t even insist that we address our issues before he would help me. He immediately let me rant about the breakup, and we didn’t discuss our issues until several phone calls later. Even when we did, he was nothing but kind to me, and he said “Tula, I know you’re a good person. If anyone is a good person, you are. But even good people fuck up.”

FORGIVE BALL JOINTED DOLLS

That was the first time I fully realized I wasn’t really a forgiving person. I am not sure if I could do what he did; I don’t know if I could just freely and openly reach out to a drowning friend who I was in the midst of not speaking to, especially if we didn’t resolve the issues between us first. But he saw I needed a friend and he rushed right in, no questions asked, no judgments, requiring nothing of me. That is a real friend. Sometimes I’ll listen to him talking about this or that and wonder why he’s still around. But one good thing that came out of it was I really got to hear from someone about my verbal harshness when I’m feeling pushed, and he let me know how awful it is, which has led me to really, REALLY look at why I’m so unforgiving. I think about all the relationships I have ended because at some point the other person did something I simply could not/would not forgive them for. When I made those decisions, I felt that person had not lived up to the standard I had set for our relationship – a standard I always felt I had upheld, no matter what challenges faced the relationship. I especially thought about the relationships I thought had the potential to be become marriage at some point.

wedding bands

One thing I know about marriage (thanks to my parent’s example) is that part of maintaining reasonably successful marriage depends on both partners’ willingness to forgive each other of all things. ALL THINGS. Of course, part of that success also rests on each partner being committed to NOT DOING unforgivable things – but if it happens, no let me rephrase, when it happens, when something you would typically consider unforgivable occurs, can you forgive and move on? That kind of forgiveness is what must happen, often over and over again, in successful long-term marriages. If you aren’t capable of that, you aren’t going to be capable of successful marriage. I’m not in any way condoning accepting abuse at all. But what I am saying is that if you’re really trying to be with someone for the long haul, chances are you’re going to have to be A LOT more forgiving than you are right now, NO MATTER how forgiving you are right now – at least once (if you’re lucky) you’re gonna have to get past something that in a pre-marriage lifetime you would have considered unthinkable. It may be a big thing, or a small thing, but it will be something that will challenge your boundaries. The people closest to you are the ones that can hurt you the most because of their proximity to you. It’s the difference between being shot at point-blank range and being shot from a distance, and you have to figure out how to recover.

PREDICTORS OF FORGIVENESS

As I started thinking about my unforgiving nature, one thing I considered was that in my dealings with people, I tend to not mention things as soon as they start to bother me. I overlook a lot of “small” things, things that I don’t necessarily feel require discussion, even though they may be bothering me. This is the “patience” that I mentioned earlier, the unwillingness to make an issue of every single thing. I’m a firm believer in picking one’s battles, yes. Unfortunately, a lot of times I don’t pick any battles at all. That’s not good either. As a result, those little things can pile up and fester, and once the breaking point is reached, all of these little issues come together to create a big issue that has so much weight and force, it just causes the relationship to cave in under the weight of it all. If I had perhaps sought to address some of the smaller things when they were small and manageable instead of sweeping them under the rug, they might not have had the opportunity to become big and powerful. My easy-going nature could perhaps lead someone to believe that nothing bothers me, which is untrue. Lots of things bother me. But if I don’t let that other person know what bothers me, how can they possibly address it? And if I’d really “let it go” when it was a small thing, how did it manage to stick around to become something bigger by joining forces with other “small things”? There is a great deal to be said for nipping certain things in the bud, and that is a lesson that I am just starting to really appreciate. I’m discovering being so laid-back isn’t always a good thing, and finding the balance between bud-nipping and nitpicking is crucial for me.

I consider the idea that I may use an unwillingness to forgive as a defense mechanism. Is it something I do so I don’t have to deal with challenges to the way I see things? Do I feel that I am a weak person because at times I have considered forgiving people of things I considered abhorrent offenses, and rather than feel I’d been taken advantage of, I dismissed them from my life? Have I just been unwilling to accept that there could be someone in my life that I would take shit off of just to have them there? But truth be told, if you don’t forgive at least one person every time you are put in a position to take shit off them, you’re always going to find reasons to let people go, and then you’ll always end up alone eventually. So how do you determine which person’s shit you should put up with for a lifetime? How difficult is it to admit that there is one person whom you love so much, even if you disagree, argue, fight, ultimately it will not matter because you will always forgive them and move on? And more importantly…they will always forgive you? That leads me to my next question for myself – am I able to let others forgive me, truly forgive me without continuing to beat myself up about it?

getting defensive

I sometimes wonder if my inability to forgive others is because I cannot forgive myself for the many things I feel I’ve done wrong. I am an extremely harsh critic of everything, but most especially myself. Being a harsh critic is good in many aspects of my life – as an editor it’s a good thing, and as I try to advise my artistic friends regarding their creative endeavors, it’s a good thing definitely. But I’m learning being endlessly hard on myself isn’t good for me at times, even if I do chose to call it “honesty” or “being realistic”. I am always examining everything I’m saying or doing, wondering if it was my best effort. It’s the Virgo in me – the constant analysis of things in the endless pursuit of some semblance of perfection. And my harsh critique extends even to how I view my life. I sometimes feel like such a failure in my life – I feel like I was capable of so much more, and while I know my life isn’t over yet, I feel like so much time has passed, I wonder if a change is ever really going to come…a real change in my life, changes that would allow me to make my loved ones comfortable, that would allow me to finally, at least for one shining moment, feel like I had truly succeeded in something I desperately wanted to be successful at in a big, significant, shining way.

In my family, I was always the smart one. The talented one. The gifted one. The intelligent one. Not  just intelligent mind you – like a super genius or something. I was always the one with so much promise, so much potential.  I was my family’s “Neo”, like in “The Matrix”. I was “The One”. I was the one who was going to save the family – I never was quite sure from who, whom, or what – but whatever it was, I was going to be the one to do it. When I was younger I would always try to figure out what I was supposed to be saving everyone from, and I would even wonder why they couldn’t at least help me save them from…whatever, but I never asked those questions. Was it the forces of darkness and evil? Was it crime? What was my family in the clutches of, and why was I the only one who could save them? And why would they wait until I was born to decide they had to be saved? I mean – the people in my family had been around years before I was born; why hadn’t anyone done this before me? Or at least tried? To this day I don’t like superheroes in comics in part for this very reason – I was groomed to be one and failed. Miserably.

failed superhero

You know what the “F” is for…”failure”.

I was always led to believe that my saving the family had a lot to do with money, and that somehow my combination of smarts, skill and talent had to earn financial security not only for my immediate family, but my extended family as well. It would also lead to the other kinds of freedom that money can buy – freedom to do what you want, pursue all kinds of wishes and dreams and so on. So with me leading the way, I would release them from the matrix of their financial burdens. I would do great things with my life, become extremely accomplished, a beacon of bright shining success that everyone could use to navigate their way to shore. From the time I was small I remember the whispers among my family about how I was “The One”…and although I didn’t totally understand and it didn’t make much sense to me, I could sense the urgency behind their whispers, and that urgency alone caused me to embrace the superhero task. They needed me to be “The One”. I was meant to be “The One”. I was Neo. Neo Caesar.

THE ONE

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I was not successful at saving the family. I did not transform all my skills, gifts and talents into anything particularly remarkable by my standards. To me, I had everything I needed to make my life wonderful and glorious and great. But I didn’t. I plodded along, mediocre at best in all the things that mattered. No amazing jobs, no wonderful husband, no beautiful home or beautiful cars. No acclaim for any particular thing I’ve done. Yeah, by some people standards I’ve done okay, but not by mine. My family has struggled in many ways, especially financially because of choices I’ve made, or did not make. As a result, my life is as ordinary as everyone else’s, and it didn’t have to be to me. I was The One, and I turned out to be The Less Than One, The Zero, even the Less Than Zero. This is the biggest thing for which I will not forgive myself.

less than zero

As I think about forgiveness all the way around, I mentally make a list of improvements I need to make to be better at this. I need to let myself off the hook first of all. I am not this huge failure that I make myself out to be. I’m really not. I forgive myself for not being what I imagined myself to be, what I imagined that I was supposed to become. And I work towards accepting that it’s okay to let others forgive me, and even in that I must be okay in the time frame it takes them to forgive me – forgiveness does not work on my schedule, or how/when I think it should. I must continue to truly take to heart what my friend said to me – “Good people fuck up.” I cannot continue to remove people from my life for everything they do wrong, real or imagined. I must truly determine the value of my loved ones. Are they really disposable to me? Every single time something goes wrong, I just toss them out like smelly garbage? I must more carefully consider who is necessary in my life, because for those I consider necessary, I must be willing to be forgiving. If you truly think everyone is disposable under the right set of conditions, you will dispose of everyone. That will certainly leave a very tiny circle of people in my life, and rightfully so, because forgiveness is hard. Even as we do it, we find ourselves fighting our hurts, our insecurities, our unwillingness to bend. We fight our need to feel validated, we fight our feeling that forgiveness means our hurt behind whatever the situation is does not matter. We fight the idea that forgiveness clears space in our head, space full of hurt and pain that could be used much more effectively. We can’t be sure if we want or need the space, so we cling to the devil we know because we fear the potential devil we don’t know. We feel we’re letting the other person off the hook for their wrongdoing in a situation; that they are getting off scot-free without punishment. We fight forgiveness for all these things, completely understandable human things, but things that ultimately weigh our spirits down. Things that make our spirits bloated, obese, unable to fly and move about freely. And my spirits certainly need to lose a few pounds so – I think I need to consider who I need to forgive – even if they never know I did it.

Maybe that “F” on my chest is for “forgiveness” – or better yet, “freedom”.

“All I can say is that my life is pretty plain,
I like watchin’ the puddles gather rain
And all I can do is just pour some tea for two
And speak my point of view but it’s not sane…”

No Rain – Blind Melon

Until next time,

Tula

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The Cemetery

Yesterday I conducted the last rites/funeral for my most recent breakup. This ritual differs from breakup to breakup – I do different things each time to make the loss official and to help process my grief and hurt. This time, I removed his belongings from my bedroom. He had a couple of drawers in my bureau where he kept his things. I had also made space for him on my desk to do his paperwork, and a few of his things were hanging in my closet. Initially I hadn’t had the heart to remove those things from my bedroom – I think I was hoping against hope that he’d call and we’d somehow put things back together. But he hasn’t called, hasn’t returned my calls, and my coming to terms with the way he has dismissed me continues. (It’s funny – that’s something he and my ex before him have in common, and something my most recent ex used to make fun of my former ex about. My most recent ex thought it was very silly that my former ex wouldn’t speak to me; he thought it was crazy and even said as much. But now he’s doing the same thing.)  Part of accepting his absence from my life meant removing these things from my bedroom; I had to get rid of his things I was looking at everyday, reminding me of how I’d lost him for good. So I packed up the two drawers of his belongings, took his custom-made suit and carefully packed it into the box it came in, and gathered up the stack of papers he left on my desk. I put these things into boxes and took them down to the basement, where the rest of his belongings were stored. I left them there. I briefly thought back to my younger days when I might have taken a blowtorch to his stuff. But I’m not that chick anymore, and I haven’t been for years. As I put his things in the basement I briefly wondered if he’d even come back to retrieve his things – truthfully at this point he has no reason to come back to Baltimore, and everything he has stored in my basement can be replaced. I also wonder what it will be like for me if he does return to claim his things. Will I cry when I see him? Will I be angry? Will he try to reconcile with me? Will I even want to see him – will I just direct him to come pick his stuff up while I’m not there? But that’s a long time down the road I reminded myself as I put the boxes away with a sigh, looking at the huge pile of boxes and bags and steamer trunks full of kitchen supplies and clothes and military paperwork and such. It looked like a huge tombstone to me – a big headstone marking the death of what we had, or what I thought we had. His stuff is stored right next to my washer and dryer, so I still see it occasionally. In a way it makes me mad, because he still has a presence in a way in my personal space because his stuff is in my house, but he has nothing with him to painfully remind him of me – no drawers of my clothes, no closet of my belongings. He has nothing to prick his memory where I am concerned, whereas I am faced with pieces of him every time I wash clothes. He has nothing of me; nothing to remind him of anything about me or us. He has erased me from his memory. But its okay; it is a reminder not to allow this to happen again with him. Now my memories of him are transported to a place in my mind that I call “The Cemetery”.

JONATHAN TOMBSTONE

“The Cemetery” is the place in my head where I keep the key memories of my exes, and where I put those  memories and relationships when they end. There are certain things I associate with each ex, and when those things are mentioned it brings to mind that person. I keep these things in The Cemetery, representing the things associated with each person and the death of each relationship. For example, in the case of my most recent ex, one of the things in the cemetery is a heavy woolen sweater. He loved sweaters and had lots of them – beautiful supremely warm sweaters. He even gave me a couple of them, and they were some of the warmest garments I ever owned. They were my salvation during the winter months, and wearing them made me feel close to him. There are all kinds of odds and ends in The Cemetery – digital cameras, microphones, American flags, keyboards, Jeep Wranglers, police uniforms, football jerseys, etc. Certain places remind me of certain people – South Beach, New York, Texas. Whenever I find I have visit The Cemetery, I visit the other relationship graves while I’m there. I’ll look at the things I’ve left at each grave to commemorate that particular relationship’s passing. Sometimes I’ll feel sad and melancholy. Sometimes I’ll laugh. Sometimes I’ll feel uncomfortable. And since I was putting this last relationship to rest (In my head I placed a bunch of carrots and kale at the grave along with one of my corsets instead of flowers – he loved carrots and kale), I decided to visit some the other graves, reminisce a bit, and revisit some of the lessons I learned from each relationship. In fact even the kind of grave that the relationship has in my head says something about the relationship.

Cemetery

This is sort of like what my ex cemetery looks like in my head. But without the bird.

The remains from my relationship before this last one is in a mausoleum – a huge granite building adorned with shiny brass doors and marble pillars. It is very grand looking and fancy on the outside, which is a huge contrast to the coldness and loneliness inside.

masoleum

I put this relationship in a mausoleum in part because the over-the-top grandeur of it suits that particular man’s his tastes in things.  It is fancy outside, just like he was, and still is. I also put this relationship here because it taught me A LOT, so there are a lot of things that need to be stored in memoriam – and in my head these things are all over the room inside where the remains of this relationship are kept. Things like microphones and keyboards and pointed shoes. But also stored there is a copy of my first CD. It is there because more than anything this represents the most important thing I got from this relationship – the formulation of my artistic/creative voice. My first CD represents that more than almost any of the things I’ve done before it because it was the first time I really gave a lot of thought to who I wanted to be creatively, artistically – what did I want to say, and how did I want to say it? I got a chance to incorporate many of the things I love into my voice – like music, like sensuality, like love, like lust, like beauty and just everything that is in me – all of those things found their way into my first CD more than any of the work I’d done previously. And because of that CD, I allowed myself to blossom as an artist and I fully began to step into my power. And I would have not created that project had it not been for this relationship – more importantly I wouldn’t have allowed that project to carry me as far as it did. It is not my best work, but the point at which it occurred in my development was crucial for me. So it rests here, with this relationship.

I have been engaged a couple of times in my life, and one of those failed engagements resides in a lonely grave on top of a mountain.

mountaintop grave use this one

I placed him there to represent several things that our relationship was. It definitely was a high point in my life outwardly. I was doing very well from outward appearances – living in a very nice townhouse in White Marsh, driving my minivan, both of my kids in good schools doing well, and I was dating a wonderful man who loved me, and we were planning our future together. He lived in New York, so we had been doing a long distance relationship for quite a while. But now, finally, we had decided he would move to Baltimore, and we’d make plans to be together. I loved him very much, and even my children cared for him. I could see my life coming together beautifully and perfectly. But notice the mountaintop is far away from everything. That was one thing that was part of our relationship too – when I was dating him I was very isolated from my extended family and friends. I was also very isolated from my creative self. During this period I rarely wrote and had not started performing yet, and whenever I would mention writing he would gently discourage me, telling me I needed to focus on my career and things that would build our future together as a couple; he didn’t want me to take time away from that with things that would be a “waste of my time”. I went along with that for a long time. I was working a lot to maintain my life, and at first it was easy to lose connection to people, and to that creative part of me. This grave is far away from the others in the cemetery, representing the physical distance that existed between us during our long distance relationship. But one thing about something that is up high – there is a very real chance it will come tumbling down. And that’s exactly what happened with this relationship. It was very exalted in my eyes; I put it up high on a pedestal and tried to be Miss Perfect Girlfriend/Wife To Be. But that didn’t leave any room to be me, and when I finally started becoming who I really was, he wasn’t too happy about it – the real me had some real problems about how he handled certain issues in our relationship, including his infidelity. In memoriam of this relationship near the grave I put books of matches and lighter fluid (long story), pizzas, a beautiful lacy nightgown, and a miniature sailboat. The most important thing I learned from this relationship was to stand my ground and know my heart, and I started to know who I really was really was enough. This man taught me the importance of knowing myself, knowing my limitations, knowing what I needed in a relationship and demanding it, no matter what.

My very first serious boyfriend has two markers in The Cemetery, each representing a distinct part of our relationship. The first marker is a large, beautiful black granite stone surrounded by tons of colorful flowers underneath lush, gorgeous trees.

grave with fresh flowers use this one

This grave is here because it was in this relationship that I bloomed and began becoming a beautiful woman, a lush, sensually alive woman. This was the man to whom I lost my virginity, when we were both teens. This was the relationship that opened my budding heart to love, because he was my first love and I was truly devoted to him as a teenage girl, and he was equally devoted to me. And even though it died, it died a very natural, organic death that I can genuinely mourn.  It deserves a special resting place that represents natural beginnings and endings – a place that honors a relationship that, while it was not perfect, was beautiful. It was full of genuine love, genuine devotion, and genuine affection that was pure and unadulterated because we were both so innocent and inexperienced at the time. We were young and full of hope and joy for our future. It was the first time for both of us in every way. In my head at The Cemetery, there is a little granite bench near this grave where I can sit and think about this relationship, and all the good that came from it. Yes we had issues and it was rocky at times, but I still feel blessed and happy that this relationship was how I learned about sex and love.

The other grave for this relationship looks more like this:

LONELY GRAVE

It is in a barren dry place by itself, isolated from everything else. Some twenty years after our first breakup, my first love came back into my life. He sought me out and found me at my job, saying he was divorced and had moved back to Baltimore. I agreed to meet him for dinner one evening, and quicker than it takes to tell, we were fully involved in a relationship again. It felt so wonderfully sweet to me, like a long-overdue homecoming. He was the first man I ever wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but we hadn’t been able to. And now, somehow, fate was allowing us another chance to be together! It was so wonderfully romantic, and we spent hours getting reacquainted, telling each other all the things that had happened in the past twenty years to bring us to where we were. I let my most foolishly romantic fantasies run wild during this period, and I was very happy – right up until the time I discovered he was still married, had only recently left his wife, and was involved with at least three other women in addition to me (I still wonder how he found the time!) When I confronted him about this, he physically assaulted me and broke my left hand, and I had to have surgery and physical therapy to repair it. It hurt more than I can say, especially coming from him. My beautiful memories of our young love affair were forever tainted with the awful revisiting. I wished with all my heart that I had not allowed things to get so far. I hated that I had allowed my romanticism to run the show. I hated how unrealistic I’d been, how foolish, how full of fantasies that I really expected to come true. And it was not the first time a man in my life who I was seeing was violent with me. The redux has a separate grave – it was very hard for me to separate the sweet memories of the wonderful boy I loved in high school from the dishonest, hateful man I allowed into my life. But I did by separating them in The Cemetery. So our youthful first romance gets a beautiful grave, and that last painful episode – well, gets something that reflects its ugliness.

My cemetery has graves of all kinds. Some have simple markers. Some have more elaborate ones. Some I don’t visit much. Some I stop by pretty often, maybe because I’m still looking for answers regarding those relationships. In my head I change the things I place at each grave, as I recall different things about those relationships. I guess all of this sounds rather morbid, but to me it really isn’t. This is just how I deal with the loss of these people in my life, and it helps me eventually remember the good things and let go of any pain or bad feelings I may try to cling to about the person.

Today as I put my latest relationship in the cemetery, I made a few stops at a few graves. I laughed a bit, and I cried a bit too. But as I left, I was glad to say that in spite of all the deaths and all the loss all around my heart, my heart is still alive, pumping loud and hard and strong, giving me the will to continue to live and love fearlessly. The deaths make me appreciate the life my heart has. I appreciate the miracle that I have somehow continued onward, and will continue onward. And these deaths, while tragic, were all necessary to make my heart the strong vessel it is.

And I hope your heart is too.

Until next time,

Tula

“I think it is lost…but nothing is ever lost nor can be lost. The body sluggish, aged, cold, the ember left from earlier fires shall duly flame again.”  –Walt Whitman

Jump Offs: The Myths, The Realities

I cover a lot of different topics on this blog. But for the next few entries, I am going to be focusing on relationships, especially the more intimate and sexual aspect of relationships.

There is a lot of discord going on between men and women these days, and much of it is because of a lack of honesty — a lack of honesty with each other, and even worse, a lack of honesty with ourselves. I want to stimulate TRUTHFUL, open, mature discussion about these matters. I want to generate discussion that doesn’t seek to make one gender feel superior to the other. I want to generate discussion that isn’t focused on proving who is right and who is wrong, which is one of my pet peeves about these types of conversations — they are often divisive and more about finger pointing that helping us identify our issues and resolve them so we can treat each other better.

I want all of us to stop making ourselves feel better by looking down our noses at how other people behave in their personal relationships. But that’s not easy. We don’t like to face our own internal ugliness head on. It is much easier to observe others, criticize others, talk about what others have done that we never have done or would do, berate others for tolerating things we say we would never tolerate and so on. But more often than not, most of us have, in some form or fashion, have engaged in most of the behaviors we criticize others for. So it is my hope that those who read this won’t have the politically correct knee jerk response. That’s too easy. After you read what I have to say, Just think about it, ponder it, and don’t judge.

Having said all that…let’s begin!

The topic of today is “the jump off”. I want to get into so real talk about jump offs, the myths and realities of the jump off scenario, people’s attitudes about jump offs, and even jump off etiquette.

Now for some reason many people feel that being a jump off is demeaning, degrading, etc. Women and men speak in a condescending, even a disrespectful manner about this arrangement. But let us be honest and clear about exactly what a jump off is in an attempt to understand that negative attitude.

A jump off is situation in which one has a relationship that is solely sexual in nature. It is an entirely physical interaction. The exchange in and of itself doesn’t have to be cold and unfriendly, but it does have to have a certain amount to detachment to work. People should always be courteous, hospitable, and pleasant in these circumstances; what is absent in these scenarios is a connection between the two participants beyond the temporary merging of genitalia.

Now, I don’t know why this arrangement is met with such derision by so many. So often I hear women say with much scorn and disdain, “well, she’s just a jump off” or “I ain’t trying to be just a jump off”, or men will say “she ain’t nobody, she’s just a jump off”. Why the negativity people? Is it really necessary? If two consenting adults mutually agree to engage in such an arrangement and are honest with themselves and each other about it, what’s the harm? Why the attitude? Why is it so bad?
Why do men feel compelled to accompany the jump off arrangement with a level of contempt, though they still willingly participate in it? Why is that necessary? Do men find it impossible to respect a woman who enters into this situation; are they only capable of having jump offs that they don’t respect on some level? Why the verbal harshness in referring to them? Why is the jump off role in one’s life minimized and trivialized instead of being looked at objectively and honestly? And ladies, some of you seem to equate participation in this kind of thing as something unladylike, that its an indication that something is wrong with the woman that does this, that it means she has low self esteem and doesn’t want more for herself besides jump off status, because of course she MUST want more. Why can’t it be that the woman made a clear decision about what she wanted and is getting exactly that — no more, no less? And why does this mean the man is some kind of man-whore with no respect for women, or no ability to deal with a “real woman” in a “real relationship”? What if he really only wants the sex, and isn’t misleading, hurting, harming or disrespecting the woman? Why the snobbery when it comes to jump off scenarios, especially when a large majority of us, if you reach age 25 and are still single, have either had a jump off, been someone’s jump off, or both, at least once — whether you knew it or not or are willing to admit it or not?

Having said all this, I’ll let you in on an important truth. For the most part, jump offs are myths. They don’t genuinely exist to the extent that rumor would have you to believe they do. True, actual jump offs, where the two parties are just sexual and nothing else are rare. That level of detachment where one shares their body without sharing themselves isn’t easily accomplished by men or women. It is a genderless condition. Very few people can honestly manage it for any extended period of time, and there is a very simple reason why.

Human beings are wired to seek out connections to others. Now please read that correctly — that doesn’t mean they are always seeking romantic love. BUT being human is about the connections we make to other humans — our family, our friends, etc. Those connections are how we know we are alive, they validate our existence, they allow us to find meaning in the time we spend here on Earth. The inability to successfully make those connections is a sign of a greater psychological disorder that we don’t have time to get into here. Now we may get hurt in our relationships, or find ourselves in abusive circumstances that injure our spirits and souls in a way that make it hard for us to reach out to others. In some cases we are so damaged we actively avoid involvements with other people beyond the superficial and necessary. But no matter what we say or do, we still usually stumble upon someone who attracts us, who stimulates our interest, our curiosity, and we attempt to make a connection, even if the connection is just sexual. We may do it badly, awkwardly, or subconsciously. We may do it in a thousand tiny little ways that no one understands but us. But no matter how successful we are at it, we do find ourselves reaching out to connect when we come across people that ignite an undefinable spark in us in the hope of lighting up our cold dark lives, even if we fuck it up because of our own issues.

Because of that, jump offs work like this:

You and said person become sexually involved, and agree that will be the limit of your involvement. Cool. Jump off etiquette requires that you and this person have minimal contact that is not sexual. So you meet, perhaps politely converse while undressing, fuck, and part company.

Now if the sex is not particularly outstanding, it is possible that the jump off status can remain intact for a time. The lack of mind blowing sex makes it easy to keep the contact sporadic and inconsistent, two other key elements to a genuine jump off. A jump off is never someone you fuck regularly, consistently or frequently. As soon as a jump off consumes that much of your time, they are taking up space in your head as well, because if you fuck someone a lot, you think about fucking them a lot. Anyone who takes up that much space in your head isn’t a jump off anymore. They may be a lot less than a boyfriend or girlfriend, but the detachment that is part of being a jump off is gone.

But if the sex was just okay, its not going to hold your interest or attention for long. At some point, whether it takes days, weeks, months or years, you’ll find someone else you like fucking more, or someone else you just like (or someone else you came to like because of fucking them, which we’ll get into in a minute). No matter how it happens, waning interest will usually cause the jump off to die a quiet death.

Now let’s say you like the sex. Let’s even say you love it. The earth moved and the angels wept, etc. If that was the case, you are not going to be willing to make hooking up an occasional occurance. Something in you was touched; you have been moved. A connection was made somewhere inside you, even if it was made in your sex organs…those connections count too. So now you want to spend more time fucking this person. Spending more time with a person, even if its spent fucking, invariably leads to more opportunity to get to know a person. And getting to know a person can often lead to getting to like a person. Liking a person has a way of leading to finding ways to spend time with a person. And when that happens, its clearly no longer a jump off. Again, it may be less than a spouse, but its no longer a jump off.

The space between jump off and committed relationship is a huge one. It is the largest gray area in all of human existence, and truthfully, it is the area a lot of our personal relationships operate in. Many of us have that person we are intimate with, who has clearly stopped being jump off status a while ago, (even if this hasn’t been verbally acknowlewdged by either party), who has yet to fully, openly, and willingly shoulder all the burdens of a committed relationship. They might appear to in their actions at times, but the “out” is always there — the “out” being that the person never agreed to a change in their status, and you can’t change a person’s relationship status without their consent. That “out” is the single most frustrating thing about this vast gray area in which most relationships exist. So these gray area living/extended and remixed jump off situations become like giant relationship waiting rooms…the places where people pass the time hoping their conditions improve.

The other big myth surrounding the jump off scenario is that it can’t change. That isn’t true at all. In my experience and observation, a situation like this has just as much of a chance of surviving as any other kind of relationship. But if it is going to change into a more “official” relationship, one of the parties involved is going to have to request a change in relationship status. And making that kind of request is a huge risk; you must be prepared to forfeit everything you already have with this person. It is truly an “all or nothing” proposition. Because if the other party doesn’t agree to the status change, the relationship is over, or will be over soon. Why? Because one party has made it known they aren’t satisfied with the current state of affairs, and the other party isn’t going to wait for the dissatisfaction to make itself felt in other ways. Most people are cowards, and just ride along, sorta kinda mostly cool with how things are but still secretly hoping that one day they are offered all the keys to the kingdom.

My finals words on the topic are simple: never let anyone make you feel bad about FEELING something for someone else, even if it is the wrong person. As long as you have it in you to care about someone else, all you need to adjust is your selection process. That is a much easier task than the alternative; it is much harder to teach someone to feel once they have lost their ability to do it. And while jump offs may not really exist like you thought they did, what does exist is a world full of people looking for shelter from the unforgiving harsh world…people who want to care who have lost their way…people who carry heavy loads, manage deep searing pain and hide ugly scars the best way they know how. Sometime they may seek temporary shelter from their most personal storms in your most personal space if you allow it. They may decide to stay. They may not. But no matter what the case, don’t lose sight of who you are in the midst of it all. Because at the end of the day, you are the only you you’ve got.

I miss having girlfriends (clarification – platonic female friends) :-D

I haven’t had a close female friend in a very long time. I won’t spout out the usual stereotypical explanations as to why I don’t have one, the “I don’t trust women” or “women are just haters” or “women don’t like me” types of responses. They don’t really apply to me. I don’t have any innate mistrust of women as a species, nor do I think women just have a knee jerk reaction to me that is negative or prevents friendship. I have had girlfriends in the past, women I was very close to and who were like sisters to me. But in recent years, I haven’t had that. As a result, everyone who I am close to, who I discuss intimate details of my life with, everyone who is part of my emotional “inner circle”, is male. And I miss having girlfriends. I miss having a sisterhood, having girls to sing my uniquely woman blues with. As much as my dudes love me, they are completely lost when I want to complain about my cramps, about how I wish I could find cute bra and panty sets in my size in stores without always having to order them online, or about how sometimes as a woman I feel so much pressure to conform in certain ways that society expects of me. They get it, but they don’t get it.

I’ve had good relationships with girlfriends over the years, and bad ones too. I’ve had the girlfriend that always made me feel like I was the ugliest one in the crew when actually I was the best looking and she wanted to make sure I didn’t realize it. I’ve had the girlfriends who held my hair when I threw up after a night of too much liquor. I’ve had the girlfriend who always wanted to tell me how bad my boyfriends were, and then would flirt with them behind my back. I’ve had girlfriends who gave me money when I needed it and picked me up when I was stranded in the middle of nowhere. I once had a girlfriend who wouldn’t take me to a job interview when my car broke down on my way to the interview because “I want to make sure I’m free in case Kevin (the guy she liked at the time) wants to go to lunch.” (Guess you can tell I’m still tripping over that one.) I even once had a girlfriend who organized an “intervention” of sorts for me at my job because she couldn’t stand how disrespectfully my boyfriend at the time was treating me. And believe it or not, that intervention really helped open my eyes as to what a jerk he was. So at times in my life I have had the sister love. Just not now.

With a lot of my former close girlfriends, time and circumstances have just caused us to drift apart. I still think the world of them, and (I hope) they still think the world of me, but we’re in different spaces and places in our lives, and just aren’t in a position to be close like we used to be. (I think of a young lady named Chanel as I write this.) Doesn’t mean I don’t think of them with great warmth and fondness, this just isn’t our season. I don’t have the front row seat I once did in their lives, but I still think of myself as being in the arena, even if it’s up in the cheap seats. With others, a specific incident occurred to end our friendship, usually a man or money, and sometimes both. Some girlfriends moved away. I’ve met women that I thought would make great girlfriends, but often they’re very busy and just don’t have the time to take on a new close friendship, though if they ever did they’d be happy to have me as a friend. I have girlfriends that I see extremely sporadically, like once every 3-6 months or so, but when we do hang out we are close, confide in each other, and have a great time together. (I think of women like Felicia as I write that.)  I envy women like my sister who has several girlfriends that she has been close to for YEARS, since she was in high school and she is in her fifties now. Truth be told, she is closer to them than she is to me and we are sisters.  They know more about her and her life and her day to day struggles and triumphs than me. I wish I had that in my life, someone who had witnessed my life for years and years. I don’t have that kind of continuity with anyone over my lifetime, and it kind of makes me sad.

I know a lot of women don’t think girlfriends are important. They talk about the drama and issues that always seem to be a part of the sisterhood side of friendship, and are glad not to have girlfriends. They feel that having all male friends, is better, simpler and less troublesome. But I don’t think one should be proud of one’s inability to relate to your own gender intimately. That doesn’t mean you should have a ton of girlfriends, but I think every woman should have at least one girlfriend they are close to, can confide in openly and without judgment. I just don’t know why I don’t have this person now. I don’t have that girl to go hang out with, shop with, gab on the phone with. I don’t have that girlfriend to tell about my love life, to share my sadness, or my happiness. When I do my shows, I don’t have a girlfriend cheering for me in the audience. And worst of all, I don’t have that crazy girlfriend to ride shotgun with if I ever needed to do a drive by and slash some dudes car tires – not to say I would. LOL!

My last girlfriend has been out of my life for a good while. We haven’t spoken in nearly 2 years. I think of her often, and wonder how she is, but I cannot seem to bring myself to call her. I am not sure she’d want to hear from me, so I just don’t dial her number. And it hurts. I can’t even say she and I were still friends at the time we parted ways. We had been drifting apart for a while before our last get-together for a number of reasons. As my writing and my performing career grew, it seemed like she made herself more and more absent from my life. I would invite her to shows where I was performing, and she would never come, usually offering the excuse that her “boyfriend didn’t really like spoken word”, though she and I used to go to hear poets quite often before he entered her life. If I did managed to get her out for a girls night on the town, she spent the night texting and calling him, arguing about this and that, so much so that I just took her back home so she could argue with him in person. She never read anything I got published, though I would send her clips and links to my work. She never shared in my excitement about the things I was doing, never seemed to want to be a part of my happiness, though I tried to always make time for sharing her happiness. When she brought her first house I heartily congratulated her and brought her a housewarming gift. When she got promoted at work I made sure I sent her a long email congratulating her success and took her out for drinks to celebrate. But even then I felt the distance between us.

She would talk about her nine to five job and its headaches, and in return I would go on and on about where I was performing next, what concert I had gone to, who I had interviewed for what publication, etc. It felt weird to me, because our lives had become so different. Yes it was my job, but I still felt uncomfortable. Sometimes I would listen to myself and think I sounded like I was bragging. I would try to sound matter-of-fact when she’d ask what I was doing, but no matter what she would usually say things like “well ain’t you just a big old star now. Surprised you got time fot the little people like me.” And she’d laugh, and I would think about how many times I had asked her out to see me and I would feel bad. Sometimes I wouldn’t even tell her what I was doing because I worried that it might sound like I was trying to show off. I continued to invite her to events I was participating in, and she continued to not show up. I felt rejected by her, and it hurt. It hurt to put aside tickets for her at the box office or to save seats for her where I was performing, and to never see her in the audience after over 20 years of friendship.  It hurt to hear her weak explanations for why she never came to see me, never read any of my work, never told me she was happy for me. (She did manage to buy my CD after it had been out for a year.) But most of all, what hurt was our last conversation.

She had just reconciled with an ex of hers that I didn’t like very much. She had reconciled with him because he had started seeing another woman and she found out about it. So she went after him and took him back from the to other chick. Now I didn’t like this guy for her for a lot of reasons, but I have sense enough to know that you can’t tell people too much when they think they’re in love. But on one rare evening out, she informed us that they were back together and planning to marry very soon. When I didn’t comment, she asked me what I thought. I told her I didn’t think he was ready to be a husband and take on the responsibilities of being a dad to her sons. He had been out of jail about 3 years at the time after spending 8 years in jail, and he was still struggling to adjust to life on the outside. He was struggling to educate himself, to get a steady job, to make up for the development that would have occurred in him emotionally and mentally that didn’t happen because he was in jail. I told her I thought she should allow him the opportunity to accomplish some things on his own before he became a husband. I thought she should give him some space to establish himself, to at least get working. I told her it was very important for a man to be A MAN in a relationship, especially in a marriage, and that she shouldn’t set him up for failure by rushing him into marriage. I told her she should give him time to feel the sense of accomplishment that men get from achieving goals; I said that she should give him time to become a better man so he could be a good husband.

So she told me that if I didn’t have anything good to say about her man, not to say anything. Now I pointed out to her that I hadn’t offered my opinion until she asked, and that I would certainly keep my opinion to myself, but if she asked what I thought I wasn’t going to lie.

She then told me if I couldn’t be supportive of the marriage I couldn’t be her friend. I told her that I always supported her and would continue to, but I really didn’t think the marriage was a good idea. Would I try to talk her out of it? No. I told her that I felt like she was trying to dictate to me how I should feel about her marriage, and that wasn’t right. I told her I wished her only the best and I sincerely hoped that I was wrong about him. But in my heart, I just wasn’t feeling it. She then said, “I don’t expect you don’t understand, you’ve always had a man in your life who worshipped the ground you walked on and just adored you and idolized you. Some of us have to work with what we get.”

And that was the last time we talked.

And so here I am today, with my “man-tourage”, as one of my male friends jokingly calls my circle. Like I said, I love them all for different reasons. Collectively they are my rock; they support me and hold me down and even protect me sometimes, at times even when I don’t want to. I truly believe they have a great deal of love for me in their way, though it isn’t romantic love. They’ll even tolerate a bit of my woman blues, patiently listening as I bitch and moan about my cramps. I have even managed to “train” one or two of them to not flinch when I stop in shoe stores when we’re in the mall. They’ll go in the store, unafraid, and patiently watch as I examine the shoes, offering their opinion. They’ll hold my purse if need be, carry bags, etc. But still, I miss the meeting of estrogen; I wish I could find that woman to see eye-to-eye with.

I think I’ll go email Felicia…

Peace!