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The first

October 9, 2011 Leave a comment

It was the beginning of second grade. My mother had signed me up for an after-school program, which I was highly dubious about and expressed little enthusiasm for. I think I cried and stomped my foot a lot the first day I had to go. But the arts and crafts drew me in, and I loved my after-school teachers. I would end up attending that program until I was in my early teens.

This is where I met him – I’ll call him the Writer. He was a strange, quirky boy, with odd habits and beliefs. He had an amazing imagination and read voraciously. We got along quite well.

We saw each other daily after school. He taught me how to play chess, including the four-move checkmate I remember as the Blitzkrieg. I drew pictures and concocted drawing games for us and the other after-school kids to play. He wrote short stories – dark, strange stories that often fell into the category of horror or detective thriller. We pored over video game magazines that he brought in; took turns at beating levels and bosses on my black and white Gameboy. We may or may not have reenacted character moves from Mortal Kombat on the playground.

There was a certain period of time wherein our friendship solidified and strengthened. Sometimes, we would simply walk around the school track, just the two of us, talking about nothing at all. Yet we never saw each other outside of the school grounds, never went over to each other’s houses.

So, as we grew older and outgrew that after-school program, we saw less and less of each other, unless we happened to be in the same class for a certain subject. What had seemed like such a close friendship suddenly became awkward and uncertain.  The Writer had his friends, and I had mine. There was no overlap, despite the fact that we were both social outliers.

Had I been better informed and more self-aware at the time, I may have realized earlier that we were both kinky. At least, all my memories of the Writer lead me to believe he was (is?) very, very kinky. Besides his short stories involving naked, writhing women in caves, there was a natural power dynamic underlying our early relationship – except that I was often the one chasing him around the playground, trying to catch him and pin him down.

I would have also realized that our mutual awkwardness were telltale signs of the crushes we had on each other, rather than signs of a faltering connection.

Now, almost a decade later, I can’t help but wonder where life has taken the Writer and whether he has had any kinky relationships. We are still tenuously connected – in that we are friends on a few social networks – and it is exactly these sorts of connections that keep me from deleting my social media accounts altogether. We’ve even corresponded once or twice, tossing around ideas of a creative collaboration with his words and my artwork. Nothing’s come of those brief exchanges yet, but lately he has been on my mind again.

I wonder if I should ping him again – perhaps when I am next back on the East Coast, where he still lives. I wonder if I should even attempt to meet up with him, to see if he is at all the person I remember him to be. I wonder if I would be disappointed by our meeting, or if perhaps I’d see a familiar, mischievous glint in his eye and feel some of that old chemistry again.

Given how busy my life already is these days, it seems foolish to even be thinking of this. But, given that the Writer is my longest-standing crush, it seems sad to leave such a cliffhanger in my past. Either something might still spark between us, and at the very least I’d regain a lost friendship, or we will both have changed and branched off in completely different life directions as to be incompatible, even as friends. But, whatever the case, at least there might be some resolution to this chapter of my life.

Right?

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Categories: firsts, life, memories, reflection

Face

October 1, 2011 1 comment

Ever hear of the concept of “keeping face” or “losing face”? The latter was a prominent part of my upbringing as a child of Chinese parents. It was only while researching face as a social construct for this post that I discovered the English took the term directly from China around 1900. I found it fascinating that, according to Wikipedia, “saving face” was coined by the English as a counterpart to “losing face”, and that it didn’t exist in common usage in Chinese. Certainly, the only phrase I’ve encountered regarding face had to do with losing it – roughly translated, it speaks of deep embarrassment, humiliation, shame, and loss of identity/social standing.

Face is an interestingly complex and pervasive concept, and though some aspects are familiar to other cultures, it doesn’t translate exactly. Face is strongly linked to social reputation and value – esteem held in the eyes of others. And, having lost it, it is very difficult to gain back. The phrase in Chinese is 丟臉 (diu lian). 丟 (diu) is a verb meaning to lose or throw [away].

I’ve been thinking about this lately as it plays out in my adult life and in my relationships. Really, it’s only been recently that I even began digging deeper into the psychological influences that my culture, heritage, and upbringing have had on me. During the last year of college, I started attending events and lectures held by the Pan-Asian group on campus, and I was stunned to see parts of my life so clearly and cleanly dissected.

Because, as it turns out, this innocuous little thing, face, affects virtually every aspect of my life. It’s the reason I was always afraid to participate in school (see second linked article above). It’s affected my ability to accept well-meaning advice and criticism from others – in fact, I have a difficult time seeing things as constructive criticism rather than as a personal jab. I am frequently searching for the true meanings to words said, rather than accepting them at face value (no pun intended).

As a Chinese kid growing up in America, I often saw my parents’ social interactions as two-faced. I read their actions as hiding any evidence of possible embarrassment while projecting a perfect, unmarred image to others. When it had anything to do with me, I felt like my emotions were being dismissed, hidden, and denied acknowledgement – all for the sake of keeping face. It infuriated me, so I acted out against it: I refused to hide my emotions and wore them openly on my sleeve.

At the same time, I was also learning to hide my imperfections from view, lest they open me to humiliation from others. It’s still prevalent – I have a hard time admitting when I’m wrong, or when I don’t know the answer to something. And it’s incredibly difficult for me to dissociate asking for help from failure. I remember, whenever I had difficulty with some academic problem or project, I would ask my parents for help, but it never occurred to me to ever ask for help from my friends. And my mother was very good at accentuating feelings of competitiveness with and isolation from my peers; my successes and accomplishments were always compared against the performance of other students. (“Did anyone else get higher marks? How many other students scored that well?”) Success only existed within that kind of context.

The day I graduated from high school, during the meal I shared with a few friends of the family to celebrate my graduation, my mother confronted me about the fact that, not only was I not valedictorian, I wasn’t even in the top ten GPA scores. The principal had called out the names of those top ten students, and my mother had been ashamed that I was not listed.

It’s not hard to see why humiliation has never been high on my list of kinky interests. Humiliation is a social phenomenon for me, and the mere idea of an audience viewing me as having lost face is unbearable. It’s the same for punishment. I will probably never be able to eroticize either of these things. Failure is not sexy.

On a broader scale, I’m only just starting to realize how differently I communicate and hear others’ words as compared with (non-Asian) people. Given the myriad layers and subtleties to the way things are discussed, it’s easy to view a lot of this as passive aggressiveness. I’ve thought of it that way myself. But what I’ve been taught and what I’ve grasped from watching my family members interact is that being direct is incredibly rude, and confrontation is to be avoided in order to save face. I am still often quick to judge someone’s directness as being crass and uncivil. And I’m only starting to realize how the difference in communication filters affected the relationships I had with my childhood friends and peers.

All of the subtext and filters makes it really easy for me to take things personally. A quick example: “You did this incorrectly” becomes interpreted as “Wow, do you actually know what you’re doing? Why aren’t you better at this?”

This year’s Paradise Unbound was a sharp lesson in miscommunication. I quickly realized that, by avoiding conflict and minimizing my own expectations, I wasn’t getting my needs met. When I was given openings to start a dialogue about what was going on inside my head, I shut down and couldn’t respond, unwilling to admit that I was having issues. And when I tried to talk things out, it was often with subtext that wasn’t picked up on.

My personal level of stubbornness, and a longstanding belief that I shouldn’t/can’t rely on others to fulfill my needs, didn’t help matters any.

I’ve ping-ponged back and forth between the two extremities – being incredibly emotionally open as a child, then reverting to hiding my emotions and remaining distant in high school and college. Now, a half-dozen relationships and several years later, I’m trying to find a stabler, more effective middle ground.

Some of that means learning to be much more direct about my needs and conflicts, and the mere thought makes me vastly uncomfortable. It means breaking through 25 years of cultural walls and learned behaviors. This past weekend, I had a near breakdown just trying to ask for some time alone with Max post-Folsom. I did manage to, a little bashfully, right before running off to work the last morning we spent together, but I had spent two weeks thinking about that question.

It has been a journey full of bumps and bruises so far. Unfortunately, it’s probably not going to get much smoother in the near future. This stuff is hard. Really, really hard.

(Some disclaimers: obviously, I’ve made a bunch of generalizations. I know one doesn’t have to be Asian to have gone through something similar – just ask any Jew – but this is simply the lens through which I can explain some of what I’ve gone through. I spent a lot of my life pretending that being Asian made me no different, that I wasn’t affected by my race. That’s bullshit, and I’m belatedly catching up on just how much my ethnicity shapes my life and perceptions of the world.)

Categories: life lessons, links, reflection

On Cutting

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

So, I haven’t written anything about Paradise – here, at least. Privately, I’ve typed up over 44 pages in a journal describing my latest trip to Seattle.

I wish I could say my fears over how Paradise would turn out were for naught, and that I had a grand time being kinky out in the sun and making mischief. It ended up being a difficult week, for a number of reasons. Things definitely took a downward turn, for instance, when I woke up my first morning at Paradise with a UTI.

It’s been 22 days now since I asked for, and received, a cutting from Phoenix. When I approached her that Saturday morning, I was feeling lost, powerless, and maybe just a little crazy. It was reminiscent of how I often felt as a teenager. It’s a terrible state of being.

I’ve “blamed” my decision to ask for the cutting on impulsivity and the need for catharsis. With a little more hindsight, I think it would be more accurate to say now that I needed to take back control – of something. I needed to do something drastic that would leave a permanent impression. A reminder.

Just a little over a year ago, I cut my hair seven inches shorter for that same set of reasons. Control. Action. Change.

That’s not to say catharsis didn’t play a role in the process. I did get some level of release during the cutting. The excruciating pain of having my skin cut open, over and over again, gave me permission to grieve in a way that I couldn’t otherwise. It was an outlet for all my baser emotions. I cursed, screamed, cried, and howled. I did not try to moderate the volume of my voice. I did not care that others could see me crying. I let all of my filters go during that hour.

Phoenix told me afterwards that I would continue to feel the effects of the cutting for weeks, that that was only the beginning. The process of release takes a long time. And it’s true. 22 days later, and I still feel the reverberations of that day echoing through me. Although the cutting has long since healed and the skin is no longer sensitive, its presence on my left shoulder is as strong as it was at Paradise. And, though it sometimes makes me sad to remember the circumstances surrounding it, I don’t regret having this flying fish as a constant companion on my back. It seems like a silly sentiment to admit, but I feel that it has grown with me, like a close friend.

It will be interesting to see how that companionship grows, and whether the cutting will persist or fade away completely.

The Taming of the Fox

April 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Chapitre XXI


C’est alors qu’apparut le renard.

-Bonjour, dit le renard.

-Bonjour, répondit poliment le petit prince, qui se tourna mais ne vit rien.

-Je suis là, dit la voix, sous le pommier.

-Qui es-tu? dit le petit prince. Tu es bien joli…

-Je suis un renard, dit le renard.

-Viens jouer avec moi, lui proposa le petit prince. Je suis tellement triste…

-Je ne puis pas jouer avec toi, dit le renard. Je ne suis pas apprivoisé.

-Ah! Pardon, fit le petit prince.

Mais après réflexion, il ajouta :

-Qu’est-ce que signifie “apprivoiser”?

-Tu n’es pas d’ici, dit le renard, que cherches-tu?

-Je cherche les hommes, dit le petit prince. Qu’est-ce que signifie “apprivoiser”?

-Les hommes, dit le renard, ils ont des fusils et ils chassent. C’est bien gênant! Il élèvent aussi des poules. C’est leur seul intérêt. Tu cherches des poules?

-Non, dit le petit prince. Je cherche des amis. Qu’est-ce que signifie “apprivoiser”?

-C’est une chose trop oubliée, dit le renard. Ca signifie “Créer des liens…”

-Créer des liens?

-Bien sûr, dit le renard. Tu n’es encore pour moi qu’un petit garçon tout semblable à cent mille petits garçons. Et je n’ai pas besoin de toi. Et tu n’a pas besoin de moi non plus. Je ne suis pour toi qu’un renard semblable à cent mille renards. Mais, si tu m’apprivoises, nous aurons besoin l’un de l’autre. Tu seras pour moi unique au monde. Je serai pour toi unique au monde…

-Je commence à comprendre, dit le petit prince. Il y a une fleur… je crois qu’elle m’a apprivoisé…

-C’est possible, dit le renard. On voit sur la Terre toutes sortes de choses…

-Oh! ce n’est pas sur la Terre, dit le petit prince. Le renard parut très intrigué :

-Sur une autre planète ?

-Oui.

-Il y a des chasseurs sur cette planète-là ?

-Non.

-Ca, c’est intéressant! Et des poules ?

-Non.

-Rien n’est parfait, soupira le renard.

Mais le renard revint à son idée :

-Ma vie est monotone. Je chasse les poules, les hommes me chassent. Toutes les poules se ressemblent, et tous les hommes se ressemblent. Je m’ennuie donc un peu. Mais si tu m’apprivoises, ma vie sera comme ensoleillée. Je connaîtrai un bruit de pas qui sera différent de tous les autres. Les autres pas me font rentrer sous terre. Le tien m’appellera hors du terrier, comme une musique. Et puis regarde! Tu vois, là-bas, les champs de blé? Je ne mange pas de pain. Le blé pour moi est inutile. Les champs de blé ne me rappellent rien. Et ça, c’est triste! Mais tu a des cheveux couleur d’or. Alors ce sera merveilleux quand tu m’aura apprivoisé! Le blé, qui est doré, me fera souvenir de toi. Et j’aimerai le bruit du vent dans le blé…

Le renard se tut et regarda longtemps le petit prince :

-S’il te plaît… apprivoise-moi! dit-il.

-Je veux bien, répondit le petit prince, mais je n’ai pas beaucoup de temps. J’ai des amis à découvrir et beaucoup de choses à connaître.

-On ne connaît que les choses que l’on apprivoise, dit le renard. Les hommes n’ont plus le temps de rien connaître. Il achètent des choses toutes faites chez les marchands. Mais comme il n’existe point de marchands d’amis, les hommes n’ont plus d’amis. Si tu veux un ami, apprivoise-moi!

-Que faut-il faire? dit le petit prince.

-Il faut être très patient, répondit le renard. Tu t’assoiras d’abord un peu loin de moi, comme ça, dans l’herbe. Je te regarderai du coin de l’oeil et tu ne diras rien. Le langage est source de malentendus. Mais, chaque jour, tu pourras t’asseoir un peu plus près…

Le lendemain revint le petit prince.

-Il eût mieux valu revenir à la même heure, dit le renard. Si tu viens, par exemple, à quatre heures de l’après-midi, dès trois heures je commencerai d’être heureux. Plus l’heure avancera, plus je me sentirai heureux. À quatre heures, déjà, je m’agiterai et m’inquiéterai; je découvrira le prix du bonheur! Mais si tu viens n’importe quand, je ne saurai jamais à quelle heure m’habiller le coeur… il faut des rites.

-Qu’est-ce qu’un rite? dit le petit prince.

-C’est quelque chose trop oublié, dit le renard. C’est ce qui fait qu’un jour est différent des autres jours, une heure, des autres heures. Il y a un rite, par exemple, chez mes chasseurs. Ils dansent le jeudi avec les filles du village. Alors le jeudi est jour merveilleux! Je vais me promener jusqu’à la vigne. Si les chasseurs dansaient n’importe quand, les jours se ressembleraient tous, et je n’aurais point de vacances.

Ainsi le petit prince apprivoisa le renard. Et quand l’heure du départ fut proche:

-Ah! dit le renard… je pleurerai.

-C’est ta faute, dit le petit prince, je ne te souhaitais point de mal, mais tu as voulu que je t’apprivoise…

-Bien sûr, dit le renard.

-Mais tu vas pleurer! dit le petit prince.

-Bien sûr, dit le renard.

-Alors tu n’y gagnes rien!

-J’y gagne, dit le renard, à cause de la couleur du blé.

Puis il ajouta :

-Va revoir les roses. Tu comprendras que la tienne est unique au monde. Tu reviendras me dire adieu, et je te ferai cadeau d’un secret.

Le petit prince s’en fut revoir les roses.

-Vous n’êtes pas du tout semblables à ma rose, vous n’êtes rien encore, leur dit-il. Personne ne vous a apprivoisé et vous n’avez apprivoisé personne. Vous êtes comme était mon renard. Ce n’était qu’un renard semblable à cent mille autres. Mais j’en ai fait mon ami, et il est maintenant unique au monde.

Et les roses étaient gênées.

-Vous êtes belles mais vous êtes vides, leur dit-il encore. On ne peut pas mourir pour vous. Bien sûr, ma rose à moi, un passant ordinaire croirait qu’elle vous ressemble. Mais à elle seule elle est plus importante que vous toutes, puisque c’est elle que j’ai arrosée. Puisque c’est elle que j’ai abritée par le paravent. Puisque c’est elle dont j’ai tué les chenilles (sauf les deux ou trois pour les papillons). Puisque c’est elle que j’ai écoutée se plaindre, ou se vanter, ou même quelquefois se taire. Puisque c’est ma rose.

Et il revint vers le renard :

-Adieu, dit-il…

-Adieu, dit le renard. Voici mon secret. Il est très simple : on ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

-L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux, répéta le petit prince, afin de se souvenir.

-C’est le temps que tu a perdu pour ta rose qui fait ta rose si importante.

-C’est le temps que j’ai perdu pour ma rose… fit le petit prince, afin de se souvenir.

-Les hommes on oublié cette vérité, dit le renard. Mais tu ne dois pas l’oublier.Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé. Tu es responsable de ta rose…

-Je suis responsable de ma rose… répéta le petit prince, afin de se souvenir.



From Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Categories: links, love, memories, reflection

Childhood trails…

February 1, 2011 2 comments

Years ago, I wrote a post, cheekily titled “Masturbaticon I“, wherein I reflected on how I began my sexual journey and learned about my own body and my sexuality. I never did follow up on that post the way I’d intended, but I’ve recently found myself thinking a lot about my childhood influences on my emergent kinkiness.

This was in part sparked by an interesting experience I had while behind the counter at Wicked Grounds a few days prior. A rather disorganized college student walked up to the register and requested an interview for a school project he was doing on bondage and bdsm. It was slow enough that I agreed. I could devote a separate post on the interview alone, but for now, the question he asked that prodded me towards childhood reflection was in regard to how kink develops in people. Were people who had been abused or sexually assaulted more likely to be kinky?

Yes, well. My answer was much longer than anything he wrote down, and I get the feeling he was only half-listening, but as far as my personal experience goes, I was certainly never victim to either of those things. If anything, I was raised more sheltered than most, in a relatively conservative white town.

Regardless of whether I was able to disabuse him of the misconception that kink is a product of childhood trauma, the question of how kink develops in people is an interesting one. I know people arrive at kink from many paths; not everyone can pinpoint specific memories from their youth as kink precursors. And this was a question I also heard while in Australia, from my college friends.

Personally, the more I explore and experiment my kinky side, the more I am reminded of events, thoughts, and fantasies from when I was quite young that were definitely not straight-laced. And I think a significant chunk of those kink precursors can be found in what I was reading and watching as a kid. Besides the normal diet of age-appropriate books like The Chronicles of Narnia and Redwall, I was also inhaling my library’s supply of science-fiction and fantasy books. And between the highly designed book covers depicting scantily clad heroes and heroines (often wearing leather boots!) and frequently erotic undertones of these two genres, I was undoubtedly creating some highly charged erotic connections to alternative sexualities, rituals, protocols, and power exchange.

Still, it didn’t have to be sex-related or fantastical for me to take interest. There was definitely already a predisposition for kink in me. I remember reading the Nancy Drew books, for instance, and feeling a mixture of excitement and fear whenever the protagonist was in trouble – say, caught and bound by the bad guy, awaiting her fate, or being threatened with a weapon after making a climactic discovery. This was also true for many cartoons I watched that centered around the hero-villain battle. I was fascinated, utterly fascinated, by villains. The more devious and vicious the antagonist, the more thrilled and mesmerized I was by the show – especially if there was any kind of personal history between the characters.

The trend grew with me, and in high school, I met Iago in my sophomore English class. This villain enthralled me, and I’ve probably inflated his character in my memory since reading Othello, but I still love the dark, sinister imagery that appears in my head when I think of him. Darkly charismatic, devious, completely consumed with vengeance yet cool as ice…

I never actually wanted to either emulate or meet an Iago in person, of course. It was the darkness that attracted me – me, the good girl, the quiet one, the nice one. Villains were my outlet, my connection to a darker, more primal side I never dared to explore myself… Villains always sought power and took it by force if they had to (often enjoyed taking it by force anyway), and that above all hit a nerve in me.

I’ve held all these feelings tightly in check for years. But, little by little, and partner by partner, I’m not only getting to reveal some of these desires, but also fulfill quite a few of them.

And there are many more layers waiting for me to explore in the years to come.

Categories: life, reflection, sex

JPBarlow’s Adult Principles

January 17, 2011 3 comments

I’m not much a fan of New Year’s resolutions, and this may have been influenced by a friend I made at a summer camp back in high school, who believed every day was an opportunity for resolution and making changes to better oneself.  And my family never did these once-a-year goal lists, so I never felt much pressure to do it either.

But I saw a great list of 25 Adult Principles written by John Perry Barlow (cofounder of the EFF) on his Twitter feed, and it has resonated with me enough to compile it for myself here, as a personal check-in to return to every once in awhile.

Here is his list:

Adult Principle #01: Be patient. No matter what.

Adult Principle #02: Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him.

Adult Principle #03: Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.

Adult Principle #04: Expand your sense of the possible.

Adult Principle #05: Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.

Adult Principle #06: Don’t ask more of others than you can deliver yourself.

Adult Principle #07: Tolerate ambiguity.

Adult Principle #08: Laugh at yourself frequently.

Adult Principle #09: Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.

Adult Principle #10: Try not to forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.

Adult Principle #11: Give up blood sports.

Adult Principle #12: Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.

Adult Principle #13: Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)

Adult Principle #14: Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.

Adult Principle #15: Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.

Adult Principle #16: Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.

Adult Principle #17: Praise at least as often as you disparage.

Adult Principle #18: Admit your errors freely and quickly.

Adult Principle #19: Become less suspicious of joy.

Adult Principle #20: Understand humility.

Adult Principle #21: Remember that love forgives everything.

Adult Principle #22: Foster dignity.

Adult Principle #23: Live memorably.

Adult Principle #24: Love yourself.

Adult Principle #25: Endure.

Categories: life lessons, links, reflection

learning about self-care

October 19, 2010 3 comments

As much as I love reflecting – in long blog posts – on the bumps that I’ve hit while navigating my first poly relationship, sometimes it is simply my insistence, stubbornness, on solving everything myself and never seeking outside help that exacerbates things.  I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with the concept of inviting another person into my head and to the table to help process my feelings.

Communication in this arena has thus been halting at best as I find ways to fight that blockage.  Emails and blog entries allow me to reflect more carefully and make sure I get my thoughts out as clearly as I can, though admittedly physical and phone conversations have the benefit of immediate feedback and vocal support.  I am not prone to blurting out what I’m feeling right away, and it often takes quite a few days of sorting through my feelings to even talk about them coherently.

The balance I have been fighting to achieve is how long to wait, in the time I am taking to figuring out how okay or not okay I am with some occurrence, before I mention anything.

Because, of course, while I am trying to be more open about my feelings, I also recognize that it’s not practical or realistic to always mention when I’m not feeling good about something.  Sometimes it is about self-care and distracting myself until some brief episode of jealousy passes.

This leads me to wonder: what are some of the ways poly people employ self-care to get through those periods?  Would anyone care to share?

Categories: polyamory, reflection