Why is it that any time I take a photo, or see a photo in which I’ve been tagged, my first move is to blow up my face for personal scrutiny. In the old days I would have to be satisfied with holding the physical photo closer to my face, but with the dawn of digital cameras, I had the ability to isolate my image and zoom in. With social media and cell phone cameras, it’s even easier. Even easier to capture what may have been a lovely moment in time and turn it into a moment of intense self-criticism. Continue reading
She approached me to ask if I wanted to do a follow-up to last year’s interview, where we delved into her struggle to stay true to her Christian value of no premarital sex, while navigating her first romantic relationship. A twenty-three year-old virgin who had been opted out of sex ed in school by her religious parents, she was facing an experiential chasm in her relationship with her thirty-five year-old, father of two, divorced boyfriend. I’d handed her my copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and a three-pack of condoms at the conclusion of our first conversation.
She was working to come to terms with her identity as a Christian virgin and the fierce sexual desire this man had awoken in her. Flash forward one year and that man has fallen away, unmasked as a lying, cheating, manipulative bastard and she’s moved in with a new man. In between her sexual awakening and cohabitation was a year of heartbreak, a thorough exploration of Tinder, an examination of her religious beliefs and her first time having a penis inside her vagina. Continue reading
I had a chance to catch up with the subject of this interview, whose life has changed rather dramatically since this piece was first published in January 2015. Revisit her story about being barred access to sex ed in school by her parents, and check back Thursday for a new interview about her sexual awakening.
“I was one of those kids you wrote about,” she commented, after reading about the pregnant virgin I counseled at Planned Parenthood, “and you probably want to interview me for your blog.” I leapt at the opportunity she was offering to capture a first-person narrative about the experience of being opted out of school sex ed and how it affects adult sexuality. Continue reading
I’d heard this one before. Several times, in fact, and so had the rest of my fellow acolytes who were fanned out around the oversized oak table in the dusky Irish tavern we frequented almost daily back then.
The story about the Academy Award winner who tried to seduce him at an Oscar party twenty-five years ago.
It didn’t matter if we were one drink in or nine, the punchline never failed to amaze, entertain and enlighten all of us. This is how we should be living our lives. This is life.
There was the oft-repeated tale about the awkward coworker who got duped into thinking that the attractive waitress at a seedier neighborhood watering hole had agreed to go out with him. Only when he showed up at the appointed restaurant for their rendezvous he discovered that he’d been set up in a different way. A few dozen of his colleagues enjoyed their elaborate hoax and shared a great big laugh at his expense.
The stories would always elicit the same collective chortling, brazenly reverberating throughout the bar and capturing the attention of the rest of the clientele. No matter how loud the rest of the patrons may have been they soon became our audience.
And we were his.
I often write about being a lawyer because that’s who I have been for nearly a decade. But that wasn’t always the case and after scratching together a living as a nine-dollar-an-hour bookstore clerk for fifteen months after law school, desperately lying to myself that I was better off than my former classmates because I wasn’t poisoning myself in that toxic profession, I finally found a job as an attorney. And I wasn’t afraid it would leech my soul through my pores in the process.
But I found so much more than that.
I found an identity.
I found home.
And it all started with him.
He wasn’t a father figure to me. I had that taken care of and was never in need of a surrogate. Rather, he was the superhero movie star I’d been missing my whole life, a larger than life archetype of charisma wrapped in a perfect tan year round. Always in a good mood, he was entirely unfamiliar with the negativity associated with stress or pressure and approached life as if the world and all of its pleasures were designed specifically for him.
Whenever he told the stories about his amorous conquests or winning the ’68 Barracuda by guessing the right number of gumballs in the five-hundred gallon globe at Disneyworld, or the constant parade of topless women at his house, who wouldn’t believe his life was a fairytale? Who could doubt that he deserved to have a following? A following I wholeheartedly joined the moment I was hired.
It all felt so good, the endless laughter, the bottomless drinks, the collective mentality that we were all part of the same unit. That we were one of his guys, or girls; gender was immaterial to the groupthink. He embraced you and made you feel like you were one of his, that he would look out for you and protect you when needed, he would guarantee a steady stream of entertainment and guarantee that as long as you stayed close by you would always have front row seats to the life of the party. Occasionally you’d get to play a feature role in his grand show.
All he asked for in return was, well…
He was self-possessed and never appeared to require even minimal external validation. That made his appeal that much stronger, that much broader, and it’s what led us all to spend hours at a time just listening to him recount the adventures of his life, over and over and over again.
Like the time he took the yacht he co-owned with a cousin up to Alaska and just missed getting eaten by a bear on a quick stop to the shore. Or the time he poured beer on the governor’s head.
He was my boss, but was he a good lawyer? I don’t know, honestly, but that’s less a reflection of the quality of his advocacy skills than it is on the fact that it just didn’t matter. All that mattered was that you wanted to be near him, with him, in his office, or the Thai place for lunch, or the bar after work, or his house.
My god, his magnificent house. The view of the Sound, the expansive, single story floor plan that had wings.
There we had numerous ‘offsite staff meetings’ during the workday, usually involving Bocce and Coors Light, and barbecues celebrating a promotion or wishing someone well as they moved away. The later the hour, the greater the crowds that would show up for these events and when they were in full swing there was nowhere you’d rather be.
The group made sure of that.
The hierarchy and social order that his disciples created dictated that if you were not present then you were fair game to be openly mocked. If you chose to act out of accordance with the mood of the group you were browbeaten into submission, made to feel a fool for wanting anything less than to be part of what the group had created for you.
Don’t you want to be a part of this?
Can you actually do any better?
Aren’t you grateful?
These aren’t questions that he would pose, generally, because he was too far above that. Without ever having to provide directives, he had his most senior apostles available as enforcers in case anyone drifted outside of the historically accepted dynamic. Sit, listen, drink, laugh, listen. But that didn’t mean he avoided putting his hands on the wheel altogether if the ship needed to be straightened out and put back on course.
I had, for example, one co-worker who presented himself as a straight man. That’s a fact. The group, however, saw him as effeminate and did not think he had ever demonstrated sufficient heterosexual masculinity to ever put his sexual orientation beyond doubt. Never mind that this was a man in his late thirties, a seasoned attorney who was good at his job and was loyal to the office. Never mind the fact that his sexuality was nobody’s business and any open speculation in the office, behind his back, was grossly inappropriate, deplorably unprofessional and unequivocally homophobic.
That never mattered.
Instead, whenever the group got together, be it in the office or after hours, the conversation always made its way to the ‘trial’ that would settle once and for all whether or not this gentleman was gay. Another senior attorney, a woman, in fact, was cast in the role of prosecutor in the case, charged with establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not straight. Our leader bore the heavy burden of defending our colleague in this kangaroo court, if it ever actually materialized, and persuading the jury of his peers that despite all evidence to the contrary, he was as straight as he claimed to be.
Yeah, it makes me feel as sick to write this as you must feel reading it. And it’s not like this was 1950.
The group discussed this ‘trial’ countless times. Dozens, at least. And whenever someone uncovered a new fresh piece of evidence it would be analyzed and reviewed and all would agree that our leader’s case was just hopeless and it was all accompanied with laughter so uproarious and out of control everyone got high from the sheer exertion of it. It was infectious and I don’t mean that in a friendly, positive way. I mean that it was viral and contagious. It was sick. And nobody ever had the nerve to mention that this took place to our coworker. Ever. There reached a point that when this took place I would leave and hide in my office out of embarrassment and disgust. But I can’t recall ever actually trying to stop it.
That would have been unacceptable. To do so would have resulted in a degree of ostracism that I wasn’t willing to accept. I feel like a weasel at Nuremberg taking that position but it’s the truth. You didn’t challenge the leader or you risked losing all status. In that office, in that role, in that city and that organization, status as one of his guys mattered more than anything else. Or so I thought.
Four years after I arrived he retired and a coworker of ours replaced him. Our leader’s influence lingered for a while – it’s hard for something that powerful to just disappear overnight – but it waned over time and pretty soon it became clear that he wasn’t bigger than the organization. He wasn’t larger than life or a savior from on high who was to be worshiped and exalted. He was just a guy who retired early to go and enjoy his fabulous life.
After he left I took a look around and realized that my career was stunted. I was in the same government job for four years without any advancement, promotion, professional development or increase in salary. I had been content with scraps for the entire time I worked there and was satisfied to walk in the great man’s vast shadow. To be clear, he always thought I could do better and encouraged me to look up and elsewhere for better work as I gained maturity and experience. I just didn’t. That’s on me, not him.
A few more years passed before I finally spread my wings a little bit and left the organization, city and state. As I look back I think of all the time I spent, some would say wasted, just sitting and basking in his glow, waiting for the next time he repeated a story, or the next time he threw a raging kegger, or the next time we could all collectively make fun of someone. I think about all the time I could have spent honing my craft and growing as a person and a professional, carving a career for myself that was built on more than just the reputation as one of many sidekicks to a man in the late twilight of his career. I think about all of that and have a hard time not resenting the culture he created and cultivated, wishing better for the young attorney who let his career lapse to be part of the popular kids club.
I think about all of that and one other thing.
I really miss him.
How many times am I going to encounter the wall, stand facing it, and with a sigh of resignation retreat? How many times will I find my back against it, chafing, before curling into a ball at its base, I give up. I resent the wall. It springs up before me both unexpectedly and predictably. I’ve been crushed against it without warning, and I’ve seen it coming a mile away. The wall is immovable and unchanging, holding me apart from reaching my highest potential, blocking the way. I can’t change it. I don’t even try. Continue reading
When I was a kid I was accused of taking advantage of the situation on a frequent basis, usually by my dad, who was at times desperate to polish his only child’s impulse control flaws right out of what he saw as her diamond soul. At the time, however, I was unaware of his parental longings, understanding only that I was constantly in trouble for behaviors that felt fluid and natural. We’d come home from a camping trip, and as my parents were busy unloading gear, I’d furtively grab a marker and write the cheer “Woooo!” on the kitchen counter, heart pounding from my daring indiscretion. It was OK, because the washable ink beaded right up upon contact with the gold-flecked 1950s formica, and rubbed right off without a trace at the slightest touch. Scrawl, rub, scrawl, rub. I did it over and over, testing the limits, until I cut it too close and my dad walked in the back door with an armload of REI, catching me in the act. Face tightening into the disapproving scowl I sought to avoid at all costs, while directly courting it with my impulsive behavior, (what an exhausting paradox for an eight year-old psyche to bear), he took my arm, saying through angrily pursed lips, you’re taking advantage of the situation! And I was in trouble again. Continue reading
…continued from Tuesday
A few weeks ago I published a post called A Direct Appeal where I called on men and boys to fight systemic sexism and shift rape culture out of existence. I asked men and boys to get involved on a micro level, to challenge other men and boys, to change the conversation, to call out bad behavior, and support women and girls. I asked them to leverage the power afforded them by their gender to put an end to violence against women. But if I’m not working the same angles for other oppressed groups, what am I? If I am not leveraging the power afforded me by my skin color to put an end to violence against people of color, what am I? Continue reading
It’s a horrifying, gut-wrenching time to be human. I suppose it always is, and always has been, and maybe none of the staggering hate-motivated events are new, just our ubiquitous recording capabilities and 24-hour news cycle are. We’re sick with hate. Sick from hate. I’m starting to hate humanity. But before I seek refuge in my dark feeling that the sooner humanity is wiped off the planet, the better, I return to an adaptation of a Hillel quote I once saw on the front of a Seattle synagogue that makes me do the work. Continue reading
I’ve been doing things the hard way for as long as I can remember. As an only child who grew up to be a lone wolf, rugged individualism was but a way of life. I did not question that my life, my plans, my love, my struggle were all of me and for me, a perfect vacuum. I was responsible for 100% of what went on, and I was proud to grab my bootstraps over and over to grind it out and get it done, whatever it was. Continue reading
I started hiking about 18 months ago, after swearing it off as a young teen. Many weekends of my childhood found me struggling along behind my dad on various trails in Washington State. I hated hiking. I hated it so much, in fact, that I promised myself I would never do it again once I became an adult. And I didn’t. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.
The last time I hiked as a kid was uphill, in the snow. Continue reading