I want to reveal something personal about myself. It is not an easy thing to understand. I will do my best to explain it. I ask you, gentle reader, to suspend judgement until you have read my entire post, and do your best to understand, and, if necessary, forgive.
No matter where I start my explanation, it will be very easy to jump to conclusions. If you read one sentence, or even one paragraph, and quickly believe that you understand… please bear with me, because you probably don’t understand. Even if you think it’s simple, trust me, it’s not.
Let me start with a caveat: people are different. I know that seems crushingly obvious, but I need to say it. What is right and good and healthy and natural for me, may be completely different from what is right and good and healthy and natural for you. Just because something works for you does not mean that it works for anyone else. So please keep that in mind if you find yourself thinking that there is something “wrong” with me. Okay? Okay. So, here goes.
I am blessed to enjoy a handful of intimate relationships with some remarkable people. I give thanks every day that I am lucky enough to have these people in my life. I strive to show them the same love, compassion and respect that I have received. I am also blessed to be part of a wonderful community, to which I happily give time, talent and energy, because I enjoy doing so, and as a way of returning thanks for the many gifts I have received. I am very glad to be part of the community, part of a family, and part of a D/s relationship that is, quite simply, life-sustaining for me.
All of that is absolutely true. It is also true that I am sustained by solitude.
Since some of you will read that and instantly have a negative reaction, let me unpack it for you. Solitude is not the same thing as loneliness. Solitude is not isolation. Solitude is not withdrawal. Solitude is not depressing, painful, or unhealthy in any way.
For me, and others like me, solitude is serenity. Solitude is tranquility, a restful peace. Furthermore–and this is important–solitude is not the opposite of relationships. For me, solitude is fuel. Solitude is what enables me to love.
This is not true for everyone. In fact, it is not true for most people. Most people draw energy from being around others, and when they are alone, they feel lonely and isolated. They seek out company because being with people recharges their batteries.
I enjoy being with the people I love, and I seek out their company because I like it. I like to laugh and share and be intimate just as much as anyone. But for me, it takes a lot of energy. I like it, but I can’t sustain it. At some point, even if I am enjoying myself, I will begin to feel drained, then exhausted. And then, in order to recharge my batteries, I need solitude.
While I am alone, I am refueling. I am centered, focused and grounded. I may be working, playing, reflecting, studying, meditating, daydreaming, praying, planning, or indulging in small pleasures. But unless something unusual has happened to cause it, you can be certain that I am not sulking, pining, standoffish, hiding, lonely or withdrawn. I am most likely content, and happily immersed.
That doesn’t mean that I hate interruptions, or that I don’t want to be around people. If for some reason I need to protect my solitude, I will; that is my responsibility, not yours. So don’t worry that you will bother me if you interrupt me. And if you interrupt me and I say, “not right now,” it means exactly that–it doesn’t mean forever. It means that in this moment, I need to be recharging my batteries, but later, when I’m recharged, I’ll probably be up for spending time together.
A few years ago, I wrote about the difference between introverts and extroverts. I am an introvert. My source of energy is reflection, deep thought, solitude and intimacy. I need these things so that I can sustain essential relationships, work, activity and community.
That is who I am. If I am not like you, and if that bothers you, I hope you will forgive me. After several decades of self discovery, I know with deep certainty that this is who I am supposed to be.
Aging, in many ways, has caused me to look at myself with wry amusement.
The creaks and groans. When it takes longer to rest than to get tired. When children I taught have their own kids going off to college. When pulling an all-nighter means not getting up to pee.
For most of my life, I was younger than everyone else around me; always a year younger than others in my grade at school, the youngest of my cousins, younger than almost everyone else in my graduate school class. Now, in many situations I am one of the oldest, if not the oldest person in the room. This amuses me. In the classic three stages of womanhood — maiden, mother and crone — I have become the crone. I honor and embrace my crone-ness.
Advancing age has brought on what I have called the “Never Again” effect. It’s a moment when you come to the realization that you have probably experienced a certain thing for the very last time in this life.
It’s not so much about deciding not to do something ever again. This is more about the realization that you will never have the opportunity again, even if you wanted it.
We all have a private bucket list of things we want to accomplish or experience in this life. “Just once before I die, I want to…” My bucket list included, among other things, five musical works that I wanted to sing at least once. It didn’t seem an unreasonable goal, as I was a member of two professional vocal ensembles that might have done any of those works. But age eventually got the better of my voice, and my singing career ended before I was able to sing any of those five works. No amount of effort or determination will restore my ability to sing. Physiology is what it is. Aging happens. I realized one day that I will never again be a professional singer. I will never again have that opportunity. That was hard to accept. I had spent most of my life in pursuit of, and immersed in that life. It was not easy to think back on the hopes and dreams I had in grad school in my twenties, the energy and optimism with which I embraced the journey, and to realize that now, whatever was going to happen, has already happened. That life is finished. It is over now.
That is just one example. There are many others. A few of them, in the past few days, have been very painful. The number of endings in my life is beginning to outweigh the number of beginnings. I am by no means unique in this. I’m guessing it happens to everyone. But in this journal I can only speak about my own experience.
In young adulthood, with decades ahead of me, the future was an intriguing mystery. With the arrogance of youth, I felt that anything was possible. I could select any path I desired, and pursue it with confidence and hope. Now, in my seventh decade, some of those paths are forever closed to me. I have been blessed with intelligence and ability and have always had a lot of drive to accomplish my goals. It has been extremely difficult to accept that some of those goals now will forever remain unmet.
Sometimes, I say “never again” with a sense of relief. About certain things, I think, thank goodness I never have to do that again. I grow increasingly aware of the things that are a waste of time and energy, and as I grow older and my supply of time and energy shrinks, I’m unwilling to spend any of it on pursuits that ultimately mean nothing.
A few things escape the “never again” effect because no matter how old one is, one can never be certain they’ll never happen again. Who can say for sure that one will never fall in love, or never witness an astounding event? In June 2014 I was pretty sure there would never be another Triple Crown in my lifetime, but the very next year, I was proven wrong. Sometimes you just never know.
But the list of assured “never again” grows longer with each year. It’s increasingly unlikely that I will ever be wealthy, own a nice home, have children, travel to far off lands, learn to sail, buy a new computer, etc. etc. My limited resources, my dingy little apartment, my solitary life, my physical limitations… this is it. This is what I get to have now. Whatever I have now, is what I’m going to have from now on. My ability to change it has diminished.
Should I mourn? Or celebrate?
There was a time when I had ambition. I had the vision of a hopeful future, and the energy to make it happen. Gradually, life’s defeats and disappointments took their toll.
Now, where once I had vision, I have understanding. Where once I had ambition, I have acceptance.
These are not bad things. Perhaps they add up to that elusive quality called “wisdom.”
I can no longer chase a bucket list of accomplishments I will never achieve. But I can love the people who are given to me to love. I can no longer sing as I once did. But I can embrace moments of joy and laughter.
I can’t escape the storm of passing time. But maybe I can learn to dance in the rain.
Today, instead of rage, I will embrace compassion.
Compassion is the polar opposite of what they wanted us to feel. They expected that we would be enraged, and respond in kind, striking back with brutality as they struck us. But they don’t get to have their way–not from me, anyway.
So today, instead of tearing down, I am going to build something.
Instead of feeling fear, I am going to do something fun.
Instead of feeling grief, I am going to rejoice in love.
We speak of “real life” in contrast to the virtual world, as if the physical world is more legitimate, more authentic. The virtual world is relegated to the status of playful fantasy. A dream.
When I entered the virtual world, I dreamed the person I wanted to be. I thought I was fantasizing. Some would say I was creating a character. That it was “playing.” I thought so too.
I immersed myself into the dream. It was rich with color and feeling, alive with relationships and possibilities.
The woman I dreamed was me inhabited a boundless world. There were no constraints on her. She could be anyone she wanted to be. She didn’t become anyone. She became someone. She blossomed, becoming an authentic individual with a unique personality and style. She was not a character. She was not a fantasy.
One day, I realized that this dream person is the real me.
The physical world that my flesh and blood body inhabits is confining. I am trapped inside walls of limitation. Not only physically, but in terms of just being who I am. I have never been able to be myself in the so-called “real” world. But I didn’t even know it, until I had the opportunity to dream myself into existence in the virtual world.
There are still a few who choose to look through my virtual self, ignoring me as if I were not real, or just some kind of placeholder, or at best, dismissing me as a fantasy character. They consider my physical self to be the “real” me.
That makes me sad. Because those people have chosen to limit me. They have chosen not to see the real me.
With apologies to proponents of cognitive therapy, I think the head is ultimately powerless over the heart.
Using logic in an attempt to control feelings is ludicrously futile. “You have no reason to feel that way,” we say to ourselves. As if that means anything at all.
Maybe I have no reason to feel what I feel. Nonetheless, I still feel it. I am an intelligent, reasonable, rational person. Yet if I am heartbroken, all the logic in the world will not mend me. No amount of rational thought will ease my pain.
Oh, the battles we fight with ourselves over this conundrum. We try to hide our feelings, to give the appearance that rational thought has won the day. We seek various cures that are supposed to produce “serenity” to keep our emotions in check. But if we are really honest, we have to admit that those feelings are immune to the power of rational thought. We feel what we feel. Logic has nothing whatever to do with it.
We should just swallow our pride and admit to those embarrassing hurt feelings. At least to ourselves.
Back in the 1990’s, when it was still new to many people, my work involved conducting workshops about online communication. Twenty years later, most of what I taught then is common knowledge. But there are still a few points that might usefully be revisited.
One principle is that “silence cannot be interpreted.” When we are missing information, often our imaginations fill in the blanks with our fears and suspicions. Alternatively, our imaginations might fill in the blanks by creating a fantasy of that which we wish were true. Neither tendency is reliable. Without solid clues, you can’t know what is in those blanks.
Without the cues of body language, tone of voice, facial expression, and observing real-world actions, written communication leaves out a lot of information. People feel very deep emotions through the written word and very deep connections to other people. Thoughts put into writing can go very, very deep and be very expressive. But they are still only partial.
Imagine the phrase, “Thank you,” as said by the following:
Growled by a surly clerk at Motor Vehicles after stamping your paperwork
Squealed with glee by a child who just received a wished-for toy
Sneered with sarcasm by someone calling an insult to your attention
Whispered tearfully by your lover in an intimate moment
The words are the same, but the meaning behind them could not be more different in these situations. You discern the meaning—and the sincerity—not from the words, but from the non-verbal cues—cues we don’t always have available online. Without that information, our imaginations make assumptions that may or may not be correct.
Some of us compensate for this lack of information by trying to add expression to our words through emoticons, or just by writing more elaborately. That can be very helpful. Unfortunately, it can also be a trap. It’s helpful when you are communicating something genuine. It’s not so helpful when one is communicating something false.
From time to time, one will encounter a person, quite skilled in the use of language, who seems to be very friendly, courteous and kind. Sadly, based only on their words, we cannot know for sure if they are genuine. They might say to you:
[Name] smiles softly. “Thank you, my friend.”
At first glance, this seems to communicate warmth, and friendship. It might inspire trust. Alas, you cannot really know whether this person really is smiling softly, or if they are blank-faced, or yawning, or laughing derisively behind the screen. I hate this, because words like those above appeal to my own fantasies about warmth and kindness. I really want them to be true.
For my own self-protection, over the years I have learned not to form opinions about people online based on what they say, or how they say it. Instead, I form opinions based on what people do—how they treat people, the choices they make, the actions they take. I love words. But actions mean more.
I admit I am disappointed when I meet someone whose words project an image of kindness and nobility, but whose actions reveal them to be manipulative, self-serving and deceitful. I really want them to be that kind, warm person, and it is a big disappointment to learn otherwise.
It is far better to place my trust in someone whose real-life actions repeatedly demonstrate generosity, honesty, kindness and real caring.
Being “nice” is only a façade if it goes no deeper than words and expressions. Buying into the appearance of niceness is a great way to get hurt.
The 9/11 Survivor Tree, at the 9/11 Memorial on Littlefield Grid.
A callery pear tree became known as the “Survivor Tree” after enduring the September 11, 2001 terror attacks at the World Trade Center. In October 2001, the tree was discovered at Ground Zero severely damaged, with snapped roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was removed from the rubble and placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. After its recovery and rehabilitation, the tree was returned to the Memorial in 2010. New, smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible demarcation between the tree’s past and present. Today, the tree stands as a living reminder of resilience, survival and rebirth.
Our reproduction of the Survivor Tree was modeled on the original, by Ada Wong, who has beautifully captured the difference in the old and new growth, and even the saw marks where the damaged limbs were removed.
Sometimes, I wonder if we all get so enslaved to tradition that we do the same kind of birthday celebration all the time, because it’s what we always do, without stopping to consider whether it is what we really want… or if there might be a better choice.
Having a big party where people gather around you and wish you happiness, getting presents and eating cake is one kind of birthday celebration. And it’s a good one. But it’s not the only kind, or even the best kind.
Over the years, I have come to understand what makes a birthday good for me. And it’s not what most people would expect.
It’s great when other people tell you that they think you are fabulous. But what is even more important is if YOU think you are fabulous. Nowadays, on my birthday, I don’t wait for anyone else to start the celebration. I celebrate me. I have a lot to celebrate.
I have a very dear friend who calls me every year on my birthday and tells me that he is glad I was born. I love that he does that. And it inspires me to admit to myself that *I* am glad that I was born. I take the occasion of my birthday to give thanks that I have been given the extraordinary gift of life, and to celebrate all of it, the ups and downs, the sorrows and joys, all of which have made me who I am. All the amazing experiences I’ve had, all the people who have been given to me to love, all the wondrous things I have learned. It really is quite remarkable… and worth celebrating.
That goes for my age, too. I don’t lie about my age. I sort of brag about it. I am damned impressed that I have survived this long. I consider it quite an accomplishment. In the journey of life, through maiden-mother-crone, I am fully embracing my crone years. Being a crone is not a bad thing. It is an achievement. It is a time to value wisdom, and insight, and grace, and a greater capacity to love. I am better now than I was when I was young.
I am not much of a party person, but this year for my birthday I was treated to a quiet, intimate evening filled with laughter, good food and good wine in the company of three of my dearest friends. It was lovely, and showed me, so clearly, how lucky I am.
I also received one very thoughtful and delightful gift from my Master. But the greatest gift I have received is my Master himself… and all the other beautiful people I am privileged to call friends. My way of returning thanks for these, and so many other gifts that this life has bestowed on me, has been to use the occasion of my birthday to GIVE gifts. Maybe I’ll buy cupcakes for everyone in the office. Or tickets to an event for my close friends. It has become something I look forward to.
These are the things that make a birthday happy for me.