… and do something with my hands that does not involve petting the cats:
Yes yes knitting BUT WHAT ABOUT MEEEE?
Every time I nudge them with my foot to get them to stop scratching the carpet:
What no no claws in the carpet here of course not just stretching that’s all go about your business human go on k byyeee
This, except with towels:
All the things belong on the floors silly human whyfor not you know that already
Every time a foot moves under the blankets:
I MUST KILL IT WITH TEETHS
They have no concept of “blocking the TV”:
But is good place for sits.
What I wake up to every morning:
Is an hour before alarm happens. Good time for snuggles.
Damn, they’re cute though:
Look, I are a clock.
It’s been a long week and I needed kitty gifs. Thank you for indulging me.
Um, hi. It’s me, Penny. I’ve been away for a while.
Life got real hard there for a minute, you guys. And then it got easier. And then it got hard again. I assume writing is like riding a bicycle – you never forget how to do it? But… well, I’ve never been great at riding bicycles. And there are a lot of hills around here. And I’m super rusty. And so is my bicycle. Or it would be, if I had a literal bicycle and not a vaguely metaphorical one.
Where do I even start?
Sullivan and I are well and truly divorced now. It wasn’t all that hard in the doing-things sense; the paperwork got submitted and looked at by the state, it got reviewed and approved and stamped and signed, sealed, delivered (I’m yours! Ooh baby). There’s a new name on my driver’s license, one I chose that’s all my own. And that feels good. It feels like a concrete step away from some parts of my past I’ve been struggling to leave behind. New name has been my official name for over a year now.
Fun fact: Banks can not EVEN DEAL with it when you change all your names. Last name? Easy. First name? It’s been done, not insurmountable. First, middle, and last? Blank stares…. crickets… ominous clouds gather… a wolf howls mournfully in the distance… a wild wind tosses leaves across a cold pale moon… the pine trees rustle and sway… a raven bursts into flight from the shadows with a raucous cry… a quiet, soaking rain begins to fall… awkward cough.
It was hard in the emotional sense. In the space of a few months the conversation turned from being best friends, supporting each other, staying in each other’s lives… to jealousy, insecurity on both sides, squabbles about mostly petty things, and what I can only imagine must have felt like a pretty big betrayal.
I, uh… I fell in love. With a dude.
Not like I meant to. I was pretty invested in the image of myself as a lesbian. I was pretty sure of myself for a while there. I had an amazing summer romance with a lady I fell head-over-heels for; a lady I am still fortunate enough to count a dear friend. I knew she was moving away when we started dating, and that was fine. I didn’t want to give her any reason at all to rethink that decision, so I learned how to love deeply and let go freely. All that is to say, if I needed to prove anything to myself about my sexuality, I think I did. I’m definitely not straight.
Sullivan disliked that I was dating women while we lived together, waiting for the lease to run out. Tried to be supportive; but, I think, couldn’t shake the feelings of possessiveness that come with several years of monogamous marriage. Maybe he found it threatening. Maybe he didn’t like confronting such clear evidence that our marriage was ending. I don’t really know; he never told me, it just came up in hurtful ways. It made for some very mixed messages. We had a hard time communicating our needs and boundaries to each other. We argued. The lease ended. We moved out.
This dude, The Dude, was someone I knew through a shared hobby and a mutual ex-girlfriend. He had also been divorced. He was from the same city as me; in fact, he and Sullivan were in the same high-school class. (Sullivan was not impressed by this; I found it fascinating.) After Sullivan and I split, he invited me over for wine and trauma-bonding. We drank and laughed and took long walks and talked about our Feelings, Of Which There Are Many. By the end of the evening it was clear to me that this was a friendship I very much wanted in my life. I became close with The Dude. Trusted him because it was clear he wanted nothing from me but friendship, and that made me feel comfortable and respected.
I don’t really know what happened there, exactly. I mean, I fell for him and we started dating and so on and so forth but… like, how? Why? Wherefore? I dunno. As I suppose most of these things happen, it just happened. I loved spending time with my best buddy, and at some point I realized I loved my best buddy. I wanted things from my best buddy that were more than just best-buddy things.
We quietly started dating. I was very confused about what that meant for my newly-formed sexual identity, but pretty quickly decided that the whole point of the exercise was to be less concerned about how anyone anywhere thought I should express my attractions and desires and just kinda threw all the labels out the window. These days I go by queer, or mostly-gay. Or, if I’m in a particularly self-effacing mood, The City’s Least Successful Lesbian.
Sullivan was not thrilled to find out about me and The Dude. There was a confession on my part and some very angry highway driving on his part. By the way, people, for the love of – DON’T CONFESS THINGS IN MOVING CARS. JUST DON’T. DON’T EMOTE AND DRIVE PLEASE. We were fine, nothing happened, he didn’t do anything scary but fuck – come on. Emoting, much like driving, deserves one’s full attention. Never the twain should meet. Leave them twain. The twainest of twains.
Interactions between me and Sullivan got colder after that. More distant. More terse. It all sort of fell apart. I wanted to stay friends but could understand that he needed time to process, to decide if he wanted me in his life, to forgive whatever hurt I’d caused by destroying the illusion that the breakup of our marriage was solely about my sexuality. There are things I feel about a lot of this now, there are lots of things I could say about what went down and how it happened… but I am doing my best, with the benefit of hindsight, to try and see it from his perspective this time around. In the interest of being honest and not hiding things, in the middle of signing paperwork and exchanging stuff and figuring out what our relationship looked like now, I did sort of drop a bomb.
Ultimately, I did what I could. I told him I hoped to remain friends, but wouldn’t push the issue. He could reach out when he was ready, and I would wish him well in the meantime. I unfriended him on social media, hoping it would give me some freedom from second-guessing everything I posted, fearing he would see it and be upset. Trying to protect him from further hurt. Fearing that just being myself and settling into this new life would seem, to him, like I was rubbing it in his face. That’s part of why I stopped writing here, too. I sent texts for holidays and birthdays – just to say I remember you, you were important to me, the door is open if you want. I’m willing to talk, to listen. If you want. If you want.
I don’t think he did. The replies came later, got shorter, stopped coming at all. He moved away, spent his birthday with my family, which I found out through Facebook. This still disturbs me; not that my family is close with him, but that they never mention it to me. Like most uncomfortable things, they just pretend it doesn’t exist. Later, they told me he moved again; going back to school in a different state. I hear he’s been seeing someone. (Okay, the few times I’ve ill-advisedly looked him up on Facebook tell me he’s been seeing someone.) I truly wish him all the best. I hope his life now is better than it ever would have been with me still in it.
I’m sometimes sad that we didn’t stay friends. Sometimes I think maybe it’s for the best, that we would have just clashed endlessly as we tried to become the people that we are now. People who are each different from the one the other married, and yet uncannily similar. So much has changed for me that it feels really odd to step this far back, to remember how it was, who I was then. Reading back through the archives here feels like I’m reading about someone else. Someone very familiar to me, but whom I disagree with on some key points. Sometimes it all bubbles to the surface and seems very fresh; sometimes it seems a lifetime ago. Like clothes in the back of the closet that don’t fit anymore and aren’t really my style – is that mine, or did someone else leave it here at some point and I forgot who it belonged to?
So. I guess I have three years’ worth of posts to catch up on. Sorry I disappeared for so long, guys. Let’s get reacquainted, shall we?
There are weird things going on with my heart lately. In the metaphysical place-where-I-feel-feelings sense, not the literal muscle. My physical heart, as far as I know, is doing just fine.
But I’ve got this weird ache. It feels a little like loneliness, but a little like freedom too. I am untethering my life; casting off the lines and floating up into the sky. It’s terrifying. Exhilarating. And lonely. But not necessarily bad lonely – just solitary. I keep trying to tell myself that I need solitude. Time to stand on my own two feet. Chart my own course.
At the end of the day, when everyone who inhabits the spaces of my life goes home to their own dreams and desires, I am left to face myself in the gathering darkness and ask: what do you want? The question is enormous. I was never taught how to make decisions for myself. There was always someone else to consider, someone to defer to.
What do I want? How do I get there? If I acted thinking only of myself, where would I be and what would my life look like? What dreams would I dream for myself?
It’s not like there’s nothing I want from this life. I’ve just lately been realizing that I’ve put my career and professional dreams on the back burner for over a decade while I searched for that fairy-tale romance the movies promised us. Like somehow finding a husband would land me a role in that movie somewhere, or get me a job correcting the spelling and grammar in novels by newly-discovered authors. Funny enough, though, the harder I searched for that perfect relationship the more I sacrificed of myself in order to find it and keep it. Being alone was worse than being mediocre and meaningless and unfulfilled. Somehow.
Don’t think that I look back on the years I spent married as wasted. I learned a lot about myself, about how I function in a serious relationship, and about my limits. I learned how to speak up for what I want and need. I learned how to even figure out what I want and need. I still have a wonderful friend in the man I married, and I am finally at a point in my life where the life I’m living seems authentic and my own.
Sometimes I think it is easier to pair up. It is so much easier to give someone else what they want than to forge your own path and follow your own bliss. Especially if you’re doing it alone. That aloneness can really get to you. It can convince you that you’ll never get what you want. It’s scary to forge your own path without a partner there to share the load. It’s hard to walk your own path, knowing there’s no one there to guide or encourage you. It can be tempting to settle into the path of least resistance instead – to find the spouse, have the kids, dedicate your life to the tedium of surviving… rather than seeking out the thrill of really living.
So there’s this weird little ache in my neurotic little heart, telling me to keep looking for that fairy tale ending. It’s telling me to get swept away. It’s telling me my own dreams aren’t worth following, because I’ll never get them anyway. I am doing my best to ignore it. I know where that leads. Instead I am doing my best to remind myself of the freedom I feel when I’m walking on my own through the city; the feeling that I can go anywhere, be anything. The feeling of being untethered. The feeling of standing on my own two feet. The feeling of floating free.
It’s time to see how far I can fly.
So, the other night I went out on my first-ever official date with a woman.
And it was different. In a very nice and refreshing way. It was much more relaxed and groovy than many of the dates I’d been on with men – no nervous back-of-the-mind commentary on a constant loop of “Oh my god what if he kisses me? What if he doesn’t? Am I pretty enough? Am I being too loud? Am I eating too much? Am I not eating enough? What does he expect tonight? Is he going to ask for sex right away? Will he stop seeing me if I say no?”
Get this: we talked. Like friends do. We got to know each other. Shared stories. Laughed, a lot.
It was awesome.
And because there were no scripts to follow, there was no fear of overstepping one’s imaginary bounds – of somehow ruining the evening by not living up to expectations. I didn’t have to worry about fitting myself into a role within the date: it was all about What Do We Want To Do Next? Where Do We Want To Go? OMG Did I Tell you About That One Time When I XYZ? It was like a night out on the town with a new best friend. Only difference being, I got to hold her hand now and then; and occasionally my brain would interrupt the conversation with a quiet Hey, Wouldn’t It Be Fun To Kiss That Girl? (Shut up, brain, I’m trying to listen. Take your fantasies and go play in the other room.)
How is it that I’m only learning what a good date is supposed to look like three years after getting married? Who is supposed to be teaching this stuff? Because seriously – someone is dropping the ball here. How much heartache would I have saved if I’d really figured out how to get to know a dude as a friend before jumping into boyfriend-girlfriend mode? Or even after that? Hell, I’ve moved in with at least one guy before figuring out whether or not we were actually friends. (He was manipulative and controlling, so short answer: no, we weren’t.) I’d had the “first comes love, then comes marriage” narrative drilled into my head so hard, I never really stopped to think rationally about how to approach relationships. I was just looking for someone, anyone, to love me. And with the cultural ruts worn so deeply into our gender identities, it’s really easy to trip and fall into a relationship almost by accident.
She and I get to create our very own, special kind of relationship from scratch. It’s sort of terrifying. After all, that means I am actually responsible for thinking through my actions and reactions; no knee-jerk gender roles to fall back on. For the first time, when I’m out with her, I am realizing what it means to be at least partly responsible for someone’s safety and well-being. Since there’s no social script for us, it means I have to do things like say, “Hey, I’d really like to kiss you goodnight, but I think it would be better if we waited. Is that cool with you?” and hope she doesn’t think I’m a total dork for asking. It means being conscious of my emotional baggage, and remembering that it’s mine to manage, not hers. It means asking ourselves questions like: Who takes the lead? Who makes the first move? What responsibilities do we have to each other? To the others in our lives? To ourselves?
But it’s freeing, too – for the first time ever, I don’t have this weight of expectation pressing down on me. I can trust she’s not just there to get laid. I can trust that she actually likes me for who I am. That I’m not just a pretty face, or another notch on the bedpost, or a trophy or an arm decoration. The fear is gone, in a way it never has been in the early stages of any of my other relationships. I’m allowed to just be myself – she likes me that way. And I get to delight in this kindred spirit I’ve found, to discover her and learn about her. We’ll get around to the physical stuff, I’m sure. There’s undeniably an attraction there – my heart gets all fizzy when I think of her and my brain has been sent on time-out for inappropriate interruptions on more than one occasion. But the impetus for sex-right-now-to-seal-the-deal just isn’t there. There’s no “This is what we’re supposed to do next, this is what we have to do next.” There’s no pressure.
We’re enjoying the experimentation, the newness of it. We’re reveling in the Choose Your Own Adventure style of romance. (If you kiss the girl, turn to page 4. If you announce your intention to kiss her at a later date, then run away in a whirl of giddy anticipation, turn to page 13.)
Taking it slow is awesome. Why have I never done it this way before?
I’ve felt for a long time that the name I was assigned at birth (let’s say it was… Jenny) doesn’t fit me. Jenny wasn’t a word that described me; it was just a label tacked on so people would know what to call me. It was a name that carried with it all the associations of my childhood, all the expectations of parents and relatives long before I came into this world.
Jenny is the name attached to the person my parents want me to be.
Almost exactly a month ago, I posted this brilliant post by Cliff Pervocracy to my Facebook feed along with a comment that simply said “Hey, internet, I think I wanna be called Penny* now. Is that cool?” The three folks who responded (none related to me by blood) all said that yes, that was in fact cool. Since then, my husband and the friends I see in person have been doing their best to call me by my chosen name. I’ve been doing my best to introduce myself under my chosen name. (Not making the change legal, however, makes for some awkwardness around the employment area. Still working on that.)
A couple days ago, in accordance with the New Year and fresh beginnings and all that, I changed my Facebook name. (It also forced me to put in my full last name, instead of just the initial I had in there when I started the damn account.) By the time I got up the next morning, I already had a message from my mother asking “Who are you and what have you done with my daughter?”
I replied that I was still here, thank you, just making some changes. The response to that was, “Don’t change too much, we like you the way you are.”
Maybe I’m snatching an insult out of the jaws of a compliment, here. I’m willing to admit that’s possible. But if I don’t like me the way I am, shouldn’t I be allowed to change as much as I deem appropriate? I don’t even want to ask how much is too much, because that implies that I care if I change “too much” for my parents’ tastes. Truth is, I don’t. They’re going to love me or not love me however much and in whatever way they decide. It’s taken me decades to realize that I don’t have control over whether or not they love and understand me. It’s not my responsibility.
I have a problem with “we like you the way you are.” The way I am is not the way I am – it’s the way they think I am. And that is a lie; that is a trap. The way they think I am is a prison cell, and I have been confined my whole life. It wasn’t until I moved away that I first breathed free air.
It’s for reasons like this that I sometimes resent our technological age. A hundred years ago, I could have conceivably cut all ties when I moved away. I could have run off to join the circus, literally or figuratively. I could make all the changes I want and never worry about whether or not certain people find out. But in this day and age, everyone leaves a trail. Everything leaves a string attached. There are no more ways to simply disappear – not without severely disadvantaging yourself. There will always be the expectations of others, hovering like a cloud around my head.
If I am choosing a life free of the expectations of others, then I must enable myself to choose a name that is free of those expectations, too. And simply the act of choosing is an act of power, an act of agency.
As Cliff puts it:
I like the idea of a chosen name. In my despotic utopian fantasies, everyone would have to change their name (or consciously and explicitly choose to keep their birth name) upon reaching adulthood. (Or better yet, every ten years. This would result in a lot of middle-schoolers named Rocketship Dinosaur McExplosion and that’s awesome.) It’s such a big and important part of your identity, it seems odd to just go with whatever you were handed.
I have a theory that everyone deserves more choices. Imagine being that middle schooler, being given the opportunity to choose your own name for the first time ever. For some kids, it may be the first choice they’re ever given concerning their identity. This is actually brilliant, because in this despotic utopian fantasy, a person’s right to choose is recognized and celebrated. In this dreamworld, every ten-year-old child has their personhood and right to self-identify affirmed and uplifted. What a powerful feeling that would be – to make a choice about your identity and have it respected. How many more of us would have chased how many more dreams, if only we’d known our choice to follow those dreams would have been respected?
This touches on another point, also eloquently stated by Cliff:
Honoring our own desires is not something we’re taught to do. It’s assumed that kids are balls of cheerfully self-indulgent id already, that all you have to be taught is how not to eat everything and hump everything and name yourself Rocketship. The lesson on “actually, indulging yourself in safe and considerate ways is not just okay but necessary” never really comes.
I’m changing because I want to change. Part of that desired change is my name. Part of it is how I honor my sexuality. Part of it is how I treat my body. Part of it is how I adorn my body. Part of it is the type of work I do, part of it is how much or how little I share of myself, part of it is the boundaries I set and the ways I deal with the things that have happened in the past.
All of it is about being allowed to want. All of it is about letting go of the shame I feel at wanting things. All of it is about gaining the confidence to be really, truly, 100% myself.
And that starts with a new name.
*Penny is not actually my new chosen name. It is, however, my Superwoman-esqe alter ago. And I will answer to it just as happily, because I chose it, too.