Of Puppies and Babies.

Six months ago, give or take, my husband and I adopted a puppy. At its core, not a life changing decision, at least not at first glance. An animal, albeit a soon-to-be very large one, not a child whose future would come to be shaped by our every decision.

And yet, something about it was drastically life changing. That puppy turned out to be a sickly one, who required more time and energy than we could have ever assumed. She also turned out to be a crier – vocal about her every displeasure, and stubborn enough to hold her wailings for hours without tiring out. Suddenly our quiet little life, which had always revolved around each other, expanded to include a third (incredibly demanding) entity.

Now don’t get me wrong: I love that dog more than I would have ever thought possible. Her persistent happiness is infectious and has, on more than one occasion, managed to pull me out of my habitual anxious tailspins. The way she bounces around the yard like Tigger when it snows makes winter more bearable. She’s never a burden, but she is a responsibility, and responsibilities always require sacrifice.

I could talk about the friends who don’t understand why I didn’t want to leave a tiny puppy at home in her crate at night so we could hit the bars. I could talk about the ones who don’t like dogs, and can’t particularly hide their disdain for our ‘life choice’. But the biggest sacrifice has been the time I spend with my husband, the precious minutes we have in a day that were previously unburdened by outside influence.

The first few months were hard – we fought a lot, and when we weren’t bickering it was because we were too tired to. Indie cried through the night, required constant vigilance all day, and until we’d invested enough time into her crate training, we rarely had a minute to ourselves that didn’t belong to strategizing about her care.

For a couple who built their relationship on communication, it was rough. My husband and I like talking – we’re best friends who value each other’s company over anyone else’s. So it was only around month three, when our life settled into its new rhythm and Indie stopped requiring so much of us, that we managed to reestablish  our relationship now that it included her.

We’re better now, especially since her puppy energy has dissipated into an endearingly persistent desire to chew tennis balls on the couch while my husband and I talk and laugh and connect. But the first few months of her adoption have left a lasting impression on my previous desire to eventually fill our house with children – to be exact, it’s completely erased it.

I know other couples make it work. And I’m sure most think it’s worth the sacrifice. But children are a bigger commitment than puppies. They require years, not months, before your lives are your own again. And, however selfishly, I love my husband too much to sacrifice our relationship on that grand a scale, for that long a time. Our marriage works because we talk. Because we laugh, play video games, cuddle, watch TV. Our newlywed bubble never really burst to include life outside our marriage – we prefer each other over anyone else in the world.

Now I’m not saying that our marriage would crumble if we spent a decade or two dedicated to raising children. But I am saying that we would lose something that I’m not willing to give up, not at this point in my life. Maybe not ever.

Maybe I’ll just fill our house with puppies instead.

 

 

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I can’t seem to escape the idea that WordPress is for people who’ve cemented their personal identity into a brand, and these days my sense of self hasn’t remained consistent for more than five minutes at a time.

Fidelity.

Had a conversation at a wedding recently, about that Andy Grammer song, Honey, I’m Good. And the popular opinion seems to be that it’s a song about a guy who gets a little too drunk one night, drunk enough to actively acknowledge the temptation of whiskey and women that bars are so well known for. And somehow, in the opinions of my fellow wedding guests, this acknowledgment is enough to condemn the song’s protagonist as an unfaithful partner who is, without question, one drink away from going home with whatever woman happens to look his way.

But if you pay enough attention, it’s actually an incredibly realistic portrayal of monogamy and fidelity. Because fidelity is a choice, one that good couples make every day of their lives. A committed relationship is not defined by immunity to temptation – instead, commitment is the constant struggle to decide that what you already have is what you want above all else.

For some couples, it’s easier than others – as simple as an offhand ‘no, thank you’ when that handsome co-worker asks you out for coffee. Barely even a thought. Others have to rouse themselves from a blur of vodka and heat before they recognize the decision they’re about to make.

But in any case, the temptation is there. What changes, when you find a person you’re willing to commit to, isn’t a miraculous resistance to the thrill of a stranger’s touch on your skin – it’s a strengthened resolve to walk away.

Articulating a Particular Kind of Pain

So, I went to a party last night that turned into something of a high school reunion – those of my core group who can still stand to be around each other, all gathered at a table for the first time in a decade. Oh, offshoots of the group have gotten together over the years, and we’ve always been peripherally aware of one another, but ten years have passed since that gravitational pull has exerted itself strongly enough to manifest.

In ways, it’s like nothing had changed – we’re all still basically the same people, and no amount of years can erase an instinctual dynamic – but past the surface veneer of long-dead jokes and memories that only surface when you have reason to remember them, I really just felt bitter.

Bitter because this group is now comprised almost entirely of newlyweds, a title me and my own husband have long since replaced with “So In Tune With Each Other that Nothing is Surprising Anymore”. Newlyweds who own houses, have pets, and are six months into pregnancies that if I were a better person, I’d find a way not to be jealous of. But here we are, artists who never had the luxury of investing money on the future, because we spent so much of it just to be together. We’ve never been reckless, or lazy, just unfortunate – long distance eats money faster than you can make it, and by the time we were geographically together there wasn’t a penny to speak of saved for our lives after the ordeal. And so I’m twenty-eight and spending paychecks to live in someone else’s home, pining after things I can’t quite reach.

It’s not that I don’t want other people to have these things, I just want them too.

All’s Fair.

Let me preface by saying that I’ve never really had many lasting female friendships. Not because I’ve ever been anything of a tomboy, but because women, as a rule, don’t like me – a feeling which is almost entirely mutual. And maybe that says more about me than it does the people I associate with, and maybe it’s that lack of female companionship that makes me say this, but I’ve never really understood the idea of “Hoes Before Bros”.

Take two women. Friends. Put a man between them, whom both have great affection for. Let’s even say that woman A dates him first, during which time woman B develops feelings for him. Woman A dumps him, or gets dumped – either way, the relationship disintegrates and suddenly our love interest is an eligible bachelor who starts to fall for woman B. Those Unspoken Rules of Womanhood somehow decree that woman B owes more to her friend than to herself – that she step away from the possibility of a loving, lifetime relationship because this man stopped loving her friend. As if the men in our lives have no feelings or freedom of choice, because somehow that violates the rules of acceptable social conduct  – the love doesn’t matter, all that matters is whose feelings got hurt.

Maybe I’m oversimplifying, but I just don’t get it.

I’m obviously not talking about those women who hit on men in committed relationships for fun, or sport. The ones who deliberately try to snake a man away, just because.

I’m taking about those times when two people start talking, and somewhere along the line friendship becomes something more than whatever relationship each has currently. Because that happens. More often than not, it’s exactly how it happens – in books, and movies, and those teenybopper shows I don’t admit to watching. And in life.

I should know. I lived it. I made a friend, an impossible friend, who lived 1000 miles away. And snarky banter snowballed into deep connection and the realization that everything we’d ever known about love was flat and unfulfilling compared to what we’d learned about each other.

I married that man. He moved to another country for me.

And I was told, many times over, because our relationship was very publicly blogged about – ah, youthful naivete – that karma would get me. That I’d destroyed a happy relationship and violated the Rules to get my happy ending. But happy men do not leave happy women and marry the person who destroyed that. And moreso than I owed that other girl some weird loyalty based solely on our shared gender, I owed it to myself and to the man I love to be with him and live our lives.

Sometimes, love’s not fair. And we don’t get to choose where our affections lie. And while we do owe each other basic respect, we do not owe it to our gender to sacrifice love for womanhood.

Youth Is Wasted on the Young

There was a time when I considered myself entirely non-traditional. I was the queen of the land of misfit toys, a writer who never strayed far from a typewriter and a glass of whiskey. I considered myself different and special and maintained the naive, childish impression that nobody else had ever felt or lived or loved the way I did. That, in its essence, is what being young is about. It isn’t making mistakes, forging connections, building memories that will last you into those dull years after 25 that most people call adulthood. Youth is really just the immature idea that you’re the only one.

And with every year that passes, I fall further into the realization that everyone feels the same recycled emotions. Love and loss and pain and pride are not emotions that I alone experience – the things I faced in my youth weren’t special to me, or my group of friends, they’re universal landmarks that we all suffer through. And that commonality of experience is how any artistic media thrives – in a representation of that which we all relate to.

And if that’s the case, maybe I’m not old, or traditional, or uptight for feeling that television shows geared towards teenagers these days are actually potentially very harmful. I was watching Pretty Little Liars the other day (don’t ask; I get bored and there’s only so many times you can rewatch Firefly or Veronica Mars), and one character said to another, something along the lines of “You’ve been going out for weeks now; why don’t you just had sex with him already?”

At the time, these characters are meant to be fifteen years old, maybe sixteen at most. And without passing too much judgment on when women (read: children) become mature enough to handle sex and their own sexuality, or how long you need to be with someone in order to make the valid choice that you should have sex with them, it seems to me – at the very least – that these life events shouldn’t be depicted as decisions you make in a flippant conversation about how “well, maybe you should just fuck him already”.

And if this is the way television is teaching our teenagers to view their lives, their loves, and their bodies, I really hope that parents of my generation are taking the responsibility that my generation’s parents never seemed to, and teaching their kids to make informed, mature decisions that are respectful to themselves, their bodies, and their mental well-being.

Because somebody has to.

Grief.

I was asked today, why I’m sad. Why the death of a man whose life I was barely part of has the power to cloud my life even the slightest bit. A man I should have known sooner, and better, if only life were fair and gave us that which we want most.

And I struggle with that. Is it my right? Is it my place to grieve so deeply?

I sat in the funeral home, deeply humbled and awed as my father-in-law paid tribute to his own father. Standing in front of friends and family, his voice unwavering as he told the life’s story of this wonderful, charming character that I was lucky enough to know even briefly. These are real men, these strong stoic farmers with dirt under their nails and easy grins and just so much love. These were the men that raised my own husband, and I’m so glad to see so much of them in him.

But if a son can bury his father and still hold his head up, who am I to cry and grieve? As a periphery part of this family, separated as we are by geography, do I really have the right?

Of course I do. And the only person who has a right to question that is me, because my doubt comes from a place of guilt, of wishing for opportunities that never presented themselves, of wanting more.

When my husband and I got married, Gramps was the first person to call me family. And while I may not have a lifetime of stories and memories, I do have hours of conversations and laughter and things that I have every right to miss. Even moreso, things that I have every right to wish I’d had more of. A wonderful, loving man slipped out of my life last week, so quietly that the loss will resonate for years. The last great-grandfather my future children could have ever known.

So yes, I’m sad, and not just because death is sadness and grief and loss. I’m sad because grief isn’t a competition – the suffering of people who knew him better, or longer, or more intimately does not negate the acute feelings of loss I feel from my own life, or my husband’s. I’m sad, because I know what my world just lost.

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Love in the Digital World

The funny thing about culture is that it changes, constantly. Taboos, traditions, theories, all evolving as people, technologies and scientific inquiry all trudge forward. What seemed unnatural twenty, ten, or even five years ago – one morning you wake up, and it’s just the way of the world. The way things have always been. The way it should be.

When people ask how my husband and I met, I rarely respond truthfully.  Knowing our history – that he’s from Missouri and I was born and raised in Canada – people ask, knowing the answer won’t be something as simple as ‘we met at a coffee shop down the street’. They ask, knowing there has to be a story there.

Problem is, people are judgmental. If I answer honestly, instead of with my stock answer of “through a mutual friend”, they’ll no  longer see the loving, devoted, strong couple standing in front of them. The minute I mention that “well, we met online”, people have a tendency to assume desperation. Or “can’t do better”.

The reality is just the opposite. Yes, Christopher and I met online. But no, it wasn’t on one of those dating sites.  And no, we weren’t lonely malcontents unable to meet people or connect. In fact, we were both in relatively healthy (if not entirely happy) relationships at the time. But we blogged, over on the now defunct Xanga, and shared a lot of ourselves over the internet because of it. And sharing with the blogosphere led to more direct communication, which lead to telephone conversations and emails and, eventually, our first face-to-face meeting. By which point we knew each other better than most couples who’ve seen each other daily for the last three years.

But how do you explain that to a world that hasn’t quite caught up with the latest turn in dating culture?

In our case, you just don’t.

Perspective.

There’s something about being in my late 20’s that makes for abrupt and fundamentally jarring changes in perspective.  As I get older, I find myself stuck in an endlessly regressive loop, caught between making and/or keeping peace, and my natural tendency towards being abrasive, aggressive and unforgiving. Fights I’d have started (and gladly finished) five years ago feel less worth it somehow, despite the instinctive way I gravitate towards conflict. The lives of friends I haven’t thought about in years suddenly intrigue me more than usual; I spend more time wondering what would have happened if I’d kept quiet instead of beating at the radio silence until there was no hope for finding sanctuary there again. What did I miss out on, leaving them in the past? Could I have even done things differently, wired as I am to fight first and forget to ask for forgiveness later?

It’s… strange, to cross that threshold into an age where people stop being pawns and players in a drama centered around you. To finally realize that you’re just as much a secondary to their narrative, to realize that while you may have been right, been true, been justified, that sometimes the value of a person outweighs the argument that lead you away from each other. That sometimes, people are worth more than pride and ego and vanity.

But then again, vanity suits me well enough, and maybe I’m too old for all this emotional growth stuff anyway.

Good Life.

I forgot to turn off my email notifications before my last post went live on Freshly Pressed – woke up to several hundred emails. The egotist in me is greatly pleased; the artist in me very humbled by the attention. So, welcome to my now fairly well-traversed corner of the blogosphere. I guess this means I  have an audience.

Blogging to me has always been somewhat performance-based. You pick a nuance, a niche, a gimmick and you make it work. In my early 20’s, blogging on Xanga, I was the bitchy elitist artist with a bottle of Jack Daniels in hand. I picked fights, I wrote prose about sex and booze and broken hearts, I pandered to my audience by trading in my looks and my smarts in equal measure, and it worked. And as cathartic as it was, looking back, it wasn’t the most organic experience. 

When you become aware of who you’re writing to, you sometimes lose yourself in what you think they want to hear. The validation becomes as much incentive as the artistic expression itself does – the voice is yours, the rhythm and cadence, but it’s all filtered through the potential reaction of those readers who drive those numbers up, up up. 

Eventually, you’re writing for nothing else. 

So, I’ll try my best not to make this blog about the pandering, or the easy way. I’ll try to stay true to those organic things that made me start blogging again in the first place, even if that means I post once a week, month, year. In return, just try and stick with me, even when I’m silent or sullen or completely off my game.

The other thing I noticed, with my sudden influx of traffic, comments and opinions, is how hard it is for me to hold back from correcting the slightest misinterpretation or misconception. I love my life, my husband, my home – the idea that someone, anyone, thinks I don’t makes me viscerally angry. And so well-meaning comments about how I shouldn’t “sell out” in order to maintain the ultimately beautifully life I have set my teeth on edge – as if somehow that means the love I have for him isn’t worth as much as the love I have for art and creative expression. As if paying the bills isn’t a real and immediate concern.

On the other hand, the idea that I don’t love art enough to make it a priority send me reeling in the other direction – how dare you say that I don’t love it, that the choice is that easy, that I can absolutely and without question have it all if I care enough to? 

The slightest insinuation that my husband could make my work load less, or doesn’t understand the cavernous absence I feel makes my chest burst with indignant protective instinct – that may be your relationship, but my husband is with me in every breath, step and decision.

So you’ll pardon me if I occasionally came off harshly in response to a few of you; my life, and love, are all precious to me, and I’ve become unaccustomed to sharing it. It’s jarring, having strangers (however well intentioned) critique the life you’ve worked so hard for.

It’s jarring, letting people in.