Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Dress

“I don’t think I can wear this,” I said to Julie’s reflection in the mirror.

“You look beautiful in it,” she reassured.

“It’s – too revealing,” I countered, running my hands from waist to thighs. The smoky-gray dress was a smooth and feather-light blend of cotton and spandex. A wide cowl neckline draped off-shoulder. The remainder of the dress from long sleeves to mini-skirt was a sheath, ala Sharon Stone. I felt naked.

“Wear it with leggings,” Julie said. “Let me get some leggings and a belt.”

Legged and belted, I stood before the mirror once again. “It is beautiful,” I agreed.

“You look incredible,” she echoed. “Who woulda thunk that body was under those clothes.”

“I just don’t think I could ever wear this.” My heart fluttered, the first sign of anxiety rising in me. I put the dress on-hold and promised to return with friends.

“So thank you for being the safe space for me to wear something like that,” I addressed the Wisdom City Team from the stage. “You know, during my Partnership Course I assessed my wardrobe and said, ‘It’s all scrubs and sports bras.’”

A collective laugh rose from my audience; they knew me as a jock.

“I made a decision and said it out loud,” I gestured pulling words from my mouth, “If clothing isn’t sexy or feminine, I’m not buying it.”

“One of the things I’ve done since Partnership is periodically go into an upscale boutique and let the ladies dress me.” And that is how I came to stand before a mirror, dressed in a sheath.

“You know, I am all about control. And that serves me in my work; right? You want me managing your diabetes or your care after open-heart surgery. But in other areas of life – it can be problematic. In letting others dress me, I have to give up control. They put me in that dress; I woulda never picked that dress. It was mentally and emotionally uncomfortable to wear and it’s daring and provocative and fun.”

I paused to regroup. I had not intended for my sharing to be a Partnership Course commercial but the opportunity dangled like low hanging fruit. “So thank you for who you are that I could wear that. Today you’ll have an opportunity to register for the Partnership Course. I LOVED my Partnership Course. I encourage you to register and maybe you too, can wear a dress like that.” They laughed as I left the stage.

My friend Kara caught me in the bathroom. Kara is my size, a pint-sized, athletic female with olive skin and dark, doe-like eyes. Everything about Kara attracts me: her soft voice, compassionate nature, neatly tailored clothes, big smile over straight, white teeth, her dark, doey eyes.

“Thank you for sharing that,” she said. “I am going out on a first date next week and I can see that I could really play with it. I could get all femmied-up. Giving up control is a big one,” she nodded, grinning. “ And I would have to let someone dress me because I don’t know how to pick out a dress.”

“Cool,” I said. “Let me know how it goes.”

“I will,” she beamed.

Something about the dress tugged incessantly, it swirled annoyingly in my head.

“Well isn’t the fun of it in the agreement that you have a great body?” Mickey asked.

“I suppose.” I was unconvinced. The approval of others is not a great motivator for me.

Wade dug deeper, “Something around it being unsafe; look there.”

It simmered on the back burner for a week and I stirred the pot in retelling, revisiting and remembering. Fully baked, it popped up abruptly like a Pop Tart from a toaster.

See no touch. See no touch is a phrase that has followed me through life. Did it come by way of instruction from mother to daughter when shopping? Was it passed like unalterable genetic code that informs who we are? It lives in both out-loud conversations and internal dialogue. It suffuses me, is me, I am see – no touch. I love being wanted and – I am unavailable. You can’t have me. I let you think you can touch me but you never will – ever! See – no touch.

So while the dress seemed like such a departure, and was to some degree, it is more of the same. See – no touch.

I am unclear what is next to do, perhaps nothing but recognize the ubiquitous layers of protection that surround me. For when I can distinguish that, a life beyond protection is available if for just one moment.

Last night, at the Wisdom Course Completion Evening, Kara reported off. A boutique-angel dressed her in “A strappy, frilly, and femmie dress. I felt so exposed,” she touched her chest and brushed her clavicles, “But it was so beautiful. My date loved it. Thank you for inspiring me to do that.”

“Thank you,” I said, “For letting my words inspire.” We hugged, and not for the last time, before departing.

Interesting are the things we employ to insulate ourselves from others: bands of body fat or covers of cloth, cigarette stench or societal stratum, an air of aloofness or chockablock calendar. Clothing was originally designed as protection from the elements. I often use it as armor and camouflage.

While I am not advocating nudity, when I feel naked I am out of my already-always, automatic and unconscious walkabout. Life is edgy and unpredictable there. It feels unsafe. And in my very protected circle, unsafe is the scenic lookout over a brave new world.

Naked good.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Anima & Animus

I had many comment on Bed Wrecker or Home Wrecker and what Mark or I should do or what I should have said. I know these conversations drive-up emotions, for me as well. It is in my writing that I sort myself out. In this muse, through a conversation with another, I address my willingness and context for granting Mark space and being.

Let me challenge my Wisdom/LM community to begin the dialogue here. POST your comments and this blog too, becomes a social commons.

This muse is a conversation from the Wisdom Weekend. In the Wisdom Course people become more self-expressed, they become more fully themselves, and - there is nothing for me to do. Someone can express love or lust or whatever - and I don’t have to do anything with it.

“If you know nothing about me, here’s the thing you gotta know.” He held his head between his hands for a moment, as if it hurt. “In the world of Anima,” he dropped his hands to look at me. “Are you familiar with Anima?”

“I know Animus,” I said.

“Animus is man,” he instructed, “Anima is woman: the spirit of woman, the spirit of all women.” His arms spread to include all women. “You are the embodiment of Anima for me. Everything about you calls to me.”

“Waaaooww Franklin, thank you.”

“And I have this amazing marriage with Jane; right? And she is not Anima for me. You are: the way you walk, the way you talk, the things that come out of your mouth, your smile, your beauty, all of it.”

“Okay. Thank you.” I was wide-eyed, stunned and surprised. “Let me ask you this,” I said after a moment’s recuperation, “Is there something I need to be responsible for in our relationship, given that I always tease you?”

“No, no, I love that you do that. But just know that that will always be there,” he karate chopped the air between us, “That spirit of woman that will always call to me.”

“Okay, thank you,” I paused, “And thank you for telling me,” I added as an afterthought.

This I understand for when I said, “I know Animus,” I spoke truth. I know Animus. Animus incarnate: that man who captures the spirit of man and all men. Animus: the man for whom I will always attend and honor and love and care and want and sometimes pine.

Given our circumstance, our relationship is in constant renegotiation, continual architectural reorganization, a redraw and rewrite of the thin blue lines that structure, bind and circumscribe our coexistence. Over the years I’ve learned it is a very adult relationship that can allow Anima or Animus to dwell in our lives without trouble-making to have them occupy our beds. Heretical and dangerous, most would say. Magical seems more apropos.

Given Animus incarnate - the indescribable and infinite playzure I derive in him - I am the last person on the planet to judge another’s search for love and belonging. Capiche?

All that being said, Anima and Animus are mere stories, filters through which we view the chosen. I could deflate those wheels, flatten those tires and stop that vehicle but… nah! I prefer my life sprinkled in magic, dusted in love and peppered with adoration. Call me mad.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bed Wrecker or Home Wrecker

He is an attractive tri-athlete, a hard-body, disciplined, svelte, smart, and savvy. That he loves to cook aligns with my habit of surrounding myself with friends who love to feed me. And - he knows the best restaurants in the city.

“That’s my favorite place,” he pointed at The Boulevard as we drove by.

“Why aren’t we eating there?”

He glanced at his watch, recalculating. “We’ll have to go there another time.”

That implied there would be another time. Oncoming headlights reflected brightly off wet streets. We passed Fisherman’s Wharf in companionable silence and turned left.

The large see-through fireplace on Houston’s patio was well tended, flames licked at logs, a crackling invitation, the illusion of warmth for a dank night. We ordered wine and waited for a table inside.

“My next woman will be a bed-wrecker,” he said laughing.

“A bed-wrecker?” I guffawed, “That’s hilarious! But,” I grew serious, “You sound like you know there will be a next woman.”

“I know that long-term, my marriage won’t work,” he turned equally serious, and poked at the round cocktail table with a large finger. “But I don’t want to disrupt my girl’s life. I don’t want her going back and forth. So it’s a choice, I’ve chosen to stay until she graduates.”

“But here’s the thing Mark,” I leaned forward and dropped my voice. “Do you think your wife doesn’t know that? Can’t feel it? And it informs your marriage now; like it limits who she can be for you and vice versa. And if you think she doesn’t know; you’re fooling yourself. She knows you better than anyone.”

These are not easy conversations and there are no easy solutions. Having an out-loud conversation is a start. Freeing the conversation from cranial incarceration into dialogue with another is a great start. Having the out-loud dialogue with a woman for whom you hold great attraction is probably not the best strategy, though perhaps a practiced one.

Women are such suckers for this conversation. We just know he married the wrong woman and that we can be what she is not and can never be. I could be a sucker for this conversation except I too, am well rehearsed.

I swirled my wine and watched the reflection of flames and fireplace melt and twirl in my glass. I sniffed, a full and fruity bouquet jumped at me.

“Wow, this smells good!” Holding my glass by the stem, I extended and he guided its bowl to his nose.

“That’s a good bouquet,” he smiled, flames dancing in his eyes. His dark eyes were crimped at the edge in laugh lines and I often heard his laughter.

I sipped slowly, spreading grape nectar across my palate before swallowing. A fit man is always attractive. A well dressed, fit man gets brownie points. He wore black cashmere over camel colored slacks and two-toned Kenneth Cole loafers. Very nice; many brownie points.

“You know, an underlying conversation here is integrity to your commitments.” I began slowly, choosing my words carefully. “If you are committed to staying, then chose powerfully and stay. But there is no integrity to staying with the intention of leaving in two or three years unless that’s communicated. And there is certainly no integrity to staying with a roving eye and extra-marital affairs, unless of course - you have an open marriage.”

My fellow Americans brand California “The Land of Fruits and Nuts” and point to open marriage as yet another in a long litany of examples. But given that an estimated 60% of men and 40% of women will have at least one extra-marital affair, open marriages provide an alternative to lying, cheating, sneaking and keeping secrets. Which, by the way, 60% of men and 40% of women, do. But I digress.

“Do you have an open marriage?”

“No,” he shook his head. “I’ve tried to have that conversation so that some of my needs can be met, but she won’t have any part of it. I will always take care of her,” he looked me in the eye, “She will never want, but she can’t satisfy what I want or need any longer.”

Knowing that and verbalizing it is positive, methinks. When one can honestly assess one’s circumstance, peeling away the facade and pretense – integrity is, after all, more than going through the motions, more than staying because I said so.

If there is no conversation of how it really is and for what might work, then behavior is predicated on pretense and illusion, the pretense of “happily married ‘til death do us part” and the constant fabrication of a public persona to bolster that illusion. The inherent problem: the stench from a stinking kettle of fish.

The handsome, young maĆ®tre d’ ushered us to our table. Mark removed his black, leather bomber-jacket and tossed it on the bench before sliding in.

“You know, I reached a point in my marriage where there was no integrity to staying because,” I poked a finger in the air, “I didn’t love him,” I raised a second finger, “Nor did I respect him. So while it sounds crazy, there can be a lot more integrity to leaving than staying.”

“Well, my daughter is the glue,” he defended.

“Kids are tremendous glue for relationships,” I nodded.

Our waitress popped in suddenly to detail the specials. She seemed intrusive and intruding and we pried ourselves from one another to heed her words. She highly recommended the Thai-noodle, steak-salad and its 17 ingredients. We capitulated and both ordered the salad.

He was by my reckoning, a man of faith. He professed faith and attended church with his family. He had contemplated attending seminary as a young man; I changed tack.

“You are a Christian man; how do you make this work with your faith? You agreed to love, honor, and cherish ‘til death do us part.”

“I didn’t agree to ‘til death do us part; I was going through the motions.” Stunned by his response, I pressed my lips into silence. Father of a teen, I wondered if pregnancy prompted said motions those many years ago.

I have difficulty with the separation of church and state of a marriage. Additionally, I acknowledge ease with casting stones at Christian marriages. I am guilty of saying, “If that’s a Christian marriage; I don’t want one coz in my world, forgiveness is more than a Sunday morning phenomenon.” For this I am hardly penitent.

Statistically, Christian marriages fare no better than the unclean, unsaved, heathens, pagans, infidels or gentiles. Why? I purport that tools for happy marriages are not proffered from pulpits, for if they were – proof/pudding, you know the adage. Secondly, we have our eye on the wrong ball. If we kept our eye on love, honor and cherish, ‘til death do us part would be a forgone conclusion. We don’t, so it’s not.

Our salads arrived and we dove in with vigor. They were a scrumptious blend of Thai noodles, chili pepper oil, spring salad mix, steak, cilantro, tomatoes, shredded carrots, peanuts and more.

We ate in silence for a short time and I toyed with the enticing affair. I ran a cost-benefit analysis, counted punch cards and hanging chits, tallied the scorecard and cost averaged. My calculations never favor the married man.

“I don’t quite have love, sex and attachment pulled apart,” I said after a time. “I tend to become very attached to the men I bed. Given you’re married, it’s best we don’t go there.”

“I’m not trying to convince you to have sex with me tonight but,” his hand touched his chest in gesture, “I am the perfect man for you.” He straightened, smiling broadly.

“How’s that?” I giggled, placing a hand on my chest to hold my laughter. Sometimes these conversations are equally fascinating and entertaining. Setting my utensils down, I settled back in my chair, folded my hands and gave him my full attention. Given that I don’t dine with duds, I had keen interest in his answer.

“You don’t have to worry about commitments or demands or that I’ll want more,” he said confidently.

Do people think I’m commitment-phobic?

“What if I want more?” I raised an eyebrow. “Let’s say I work out my attachments and think I can handle an affair. What would that look like?”

“I’d love to come see you for the night sometimes, without lying about it.”

I nodded and held his gaze far longer than was comfortable.

“That feels,” my eyes left his to scour the ceiling in search of the proper word, “Promiscuous to me. Not for you - for me.” My splayed hand touched my chest instinctively for emphasis.

Young adults have a term for this: fuck-buddies, a term more revolting than actual practice methinks. Conceptually, I have no difficulty with any kind of sex between consenting adults. But as a practice in my life?

“Those Judeo-Christian roots are hard to shuck,” I said in my defense. “Anyway, you guys are hard-wired to spread your seed. From that purview, your desire for other women makes perfect sense. Women are hard-wired for security, to create a nest and raise the kids. We look for big and strong, someone capable of killing the deer and dragging it home. From a woman’s perspective, spreading your seed is a threat to the survival of our brood. I don’t have a problem with it but I do have a bit of a problem participating in it.”

“I got what you are saying about spreading our seed,” he prepared to bolster his case, “But it’s not just with anyone; there has to be a connection. It’s not just about sex. At my age, sex is no good if there’s no connection.”

I couldn’t disagree and thought it probably THE issue in his marital bed as well. Unfortunately, the men for whom I held strong connections were married. That made them somewhat unavailable. Not entirely but physical intimacy was Kapu - off limits.

“I know that I am reliable to create another long-term relationship,” I started with my reasons, as if I needed them. “I used to say, ‘I’m not a No-Never; I’m a No-Not-Now.’ I can see that in the last year I have shifted to: No-Not-You. Not you, not you, not you.” I pointed at three spots in the space between us. “And if I become involved with you, unless I work out my attachments, I’ll be unavailable to the possibility of someone else. Like, I might not even notice him.” I had been known to not notice.

“I have a friend who went on and dated some great gals. You are so pretty, you could meet hundreds of men on”

My hackles rose. This topic was a briar patch. I dove for cover, into a nearby rabbit hole, head first, full speed ahead. “ is based on the supposition that I am looking; I’m not. There is no lack of men in my life. When I want to date, I will.” End of conversation.

We finished our dinner, split a cobbler dessert topped with vanilla ice cream and walked back to his vehicle, arm in arm.

“Here’s the hard part about this,” I said standing before him with my arms folded. “When it’s all said and done, you’ll go home and snuggle up for TV with you wife and daughter. Later, you’ll crawl into bed with your wife. I’ll go home to an empty house and snuggle with my cat. I’m not - that interested in becoming attached to you and going home to an empty house.”

We hugged before climbing into his auto. It is always a pleasure to hug a fit and trim man. I closed my eyes and inhaled the scent of a man. Ah… nice bouquet. We kissed when he dropped me at my hotel and that too, was very nice.

These are not easy conversations and there are no easy solutions. There is no right way, no wrong way. There is dialoguing with those of import, seeking workability and happiness. Having an out-loud conversation is a start. For that, the man gets brownie points. When he has it where it counts? Many, many brownie points.