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Characterized as Vulnerable

vulnerable-chinese

I sat waiting for my lunch to be ready. Closing my eyes, the sun warming me, honing in on nearby conversations.

“It was just awful!”

“Do you want to meet later?”

“We have to get back soon.”

“What are you hungry for?”

And then, “Think of a Chinese word you’d like to see written.”

Two young women, students conducting a written language experiment, held a small, dry-erase board and the woman in the steel-grey wool skirt looked sheepishly to the man-in-tow standing next to her, scanning his face for a word, for approval.

“Tomato,” she smiled and shrugged.

What an uninteresting word,” I thought to myself. Clearly, hunger and condiments dominated her thoughts to choose such an oddly simple thing.

The student began to draw the two characters, then handed the board to steel-grey skirt and asked her to draw it, to copy the lines in her own hand.

“Like this?” She fumbled through and the student asked to take a picture of steel-grey skirt holding up the sign, which she obliged after being assured it wouldn’t end up on the web or Facebook.

Steel-grey skirt and man-in-tow collected their lunches and wandered off back to their meetings and spreadsheets and before the students could walk away, I volunteered, “I have a word I’d like to see.”

“Great! What’s the word?”

“Vulnerable.”

“Oh—I’ll have to look that one up, it might be kind of difficult, the Chinese don’t really have an expression for that. Well, depending on the context I guess.”

“I suppose weakness is not a good emotional or political stance,” I mused.

She typed it into her phone where there must’ve been a pinyin and symbology translator of sorts and she mumbled, “Ah, hmm, that’s really pretty.”

She sketched out what looked like two number 5s, curved, bent and spooning, little animals with two quick hatchmarks in the coils and crooks, something warm in their bellies perhaps.  The second symbol, like a little house on stick legs, or a bird laying in a field of short reeds or soft, matted grass, or a boat on uneven waves jutting a mast with no sail attached.

She handed me the board and it was my turn to draw.

“Very good!” She encouraged. “You could do calligraphy.”

And I suddenly thought of my high school art class, how I attended my prom for free because I volunteered to hand write every student’s name in my graduating class and their respective date’s name on folded white cardstock for all the seating arrangements at the dinner tables. How I painstakingly wrote every letter with a copper pen tip, sinking the nib into a bottle of crow-black ink, scratching out letters and then with a glue gun, affixing a black bow-tied ribbon and burgundy rose in the corner of every one.

She took my picture holding up the board with “vulnerable” written twice and asked, “Why are you so interested in this word?”
Tomato-HeartI considered the tomato. Heart-shaped, red, plump, viscous inside, thin-skinned, vulnerable and thought perhaps, it wasn’t such a bad word after all and I said, “I think objects are fine, but I am more curious about concepts, especially emotional ones that are difficult to describe with one word. Like love or home or wonder.” I thought about how big ideas cannot, should not easily be boiled down, compartmentalized, or compressed into a single word or worse, an acronym. Americans are really fond of acronyms and especially mnemonics, trying to make big ideas memorable, and easier to digest, when really, what must be done is some digging, some spelunking, some serious unpacking followed by a gentle examination of all the parts.

I thought of other languages where speakers might have cultural differences and difficulties expressing emotion. For instance, one way of responding to the everyday greeting of “How are you?” in Russian is to say ” I am not unwell.” As if, already expressing in the negative was a way of conveying strength. Things could be worse. I’m not dead yet. My friend told a story where in high school, a Russian exchange student staying at his home was being chastised for taking her host family’s young  son out to play in his school clothes on a rainy day. His mother wasn’t at all happy that they had returned so filthy, caked in mud and muck, but the Russian girl sweetly explained to the mother, “he is not unwashable.”

What does it mean to be vulnerable? To be “accessible, assailable, defenseless, exposed, liable, naked, on the line, on the spot, out on a limb, ready, sensitive, sitting duck, sucker, susceptible, tender, thin-skinned, unguarded, unprotected, unsafe, weak, wide open, open to attack.” Why is there no strength in vulnerability when it takes all the courage in the world to allow yourself to let something, some ideas, someone in? To yield with grace to the often terrifying, ever-shifting locus of love, of home, and of wonder.

All three of these ideas have changed greatly for me in the last several years. Losing a beloved pet to cancer, losing a home by being priced out of the neighborhood, losing a job and a marriage; and all of these losses and changes at nearly the same time.  It was like witnessing all the love and home and wonder I nurtured suddenly evaporate out from under me. There was a serious unpacking. There was a gentle examination of all my parts. Especially the ones that went missing, where I identified myself.

I thought of many loves lost in my youth, how some of the most tender pieces of me were carried off by wild wolf boys and buried like edible treasure to devour later. How sometimes there were wounds I ignored and over and over I had to revisit the same old traps that closed upon them to extract myself very carefully so as to not lose more pieces still. Sure, I came out licking my wounds, scathed and dirty. But I emerged whole. 

Turns out, I am not unwahsable. I am not unwell. I am still hungry and I am getting reacquainted with wonder. I have redefined home. I still don’t fully understand the nature of love, but I am very much an eager student and believer of it in all of its necessary function and beautiful, new forms.

And I am still quite vulnerable.

love, marriage, nature, photography

. . . Falling In Love . . .

“You only fall in love once, the rest is merely practice
to make sure your heart can take it.”

~ unknown

“A great proportion of the wretchedness which has embittered married life,
has originated in the negligence of trifles. Connubial happiness is a thing
of too fine a texture to be handled roughly. It is a sensitive plant, which will
not bear even the touch of unkindness; a delicate flower, which indifference
will chill and suspicion blast. It must be watered by the showers of tender
affection, expanded by the cheering glow of kindness, and guarded by the
impregnable barrier of unshaken confidence. Thus matured, it will bloom
with fragrance in every season of life, and sweeten even the loneliness of
declining years.”

~ Thomas Sprat

“Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird
I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”

~ George Eliot


From: Joseph & Andrea Janda
To: ALL
Subject: autumn equinox celebration
Date: Sat, 15 Sep 2007 15:13:43 -0400

Howdy all.  Been a while since we’ve seen some of you.

So Andrea and I have contemplated the extensive nonsense that would go into a proper wedding, and we are both lukewarm about the time and expense and public show aspects of such an affair.  We want to have a big party with friends and family to celebrate, and we’ve pegged that party to next year, between May and October.   More precise details will emerge in the next few months.

In the meantime, we’re eloping to home.  Next Sunday, which also happens to be the autumn equinox, we will be married by an approved Fairfax Country celebrant in the comfort of our own apartment, possibly in our pajamas.  A courthouse wedding without the courthouse, by a woman who was kind enough to agree to come sign the requisite papers without insisting on any kind of ceremony, god-speech, or tepid couples counseling.  At 6pm, we’ll have a little autumn soiree (apple pie, apple cider, pumpkin ale, cheeses, and of course more wine than is likely good for us) for friends and family who are within practical driving distance.  E-vite to follow.

Well wishes welcome – no gifts.

Talk to you all soon,
Joe


Hello Lovelies . . .

Joe encapsulated it best above, he’s a man of many clever, warming words, which is why, you know – i’m marrying him and all.

Please don’t feel obligated to attend or sad if you can’t, you can even call if you’d like! Note – this is a marriage, not a wedding . . . that will come soon enough to include everyone. This little event is also NOT a VIP members only list of invites . . . our apartment is small – we really wanted it to be no fuss, but also wanted it to be symbolic and private. Upon further discussion, we realized, we don’t want to upset anyone and keep it to all ourselves, thus you’re getting this dual-email / letter so you’re not left out!

We are so happy and very much in love and really wanted to be each other’s on our own terms and before the year’s end. September 23rd, the autumn equinox, was the day we had originally planned to be married and so – we’re following through with that. the “real” wedding next year might fall on that day as well, just to recapitulate the event – both a first time for you, and an anniversary & affirmation for us.

Hope this note finds you well and happy . . .

///Andrea


Yes.

This is the formal press release . . .

of course, we’re going to piss off the traditionalists and a precious few, but this upcoming first step was really for Joe and i. we wanted to be married on the first day of Fall, so we willed it to happen, with or without a “reception” party or anyone’s necessary approval.

kind of takes the pressure off, really.

to us, the marriage is not the orgasm of the relationship, it’s not a culmination of events and a downslide after. that part is in all practicality, just the legalities of the state – a marriage license. i already know i want to commit to Joe forever, now the Commonwealth of Virginia and Fairfax County knows it too. my friends and family have probably figured it out by now, but i urge them NOT to attach too much to how and when i am going to choose to celebrate it so as not to injure anyone’s feelings.

as for the rest – there’s too much treachery in the idea of marriage and what it means to have a wedding. i am not trying to reinvent the fucker, or insult anyone who by family pressure or by personal taste feels they need to hit all the buzzers, in fact, i think all that normal celebration and successive points of play are just lovely – i have attended many many many weddings and know what to do at them. most people do. despite the procedural expectations that is practically engrained in the culture of traditional American weddings (religious or civil), i have even had fun at them, but still – it’s not what i want.

i know precisely what a wedding does NOT mean to me: a horrible dj who insists on the chicken dance, the electric slide and the macarena, nor does it mean sliding a garter belt up my leg in public to “the stripper,” standing in queues for food, or a rushed event where i hardly get to eat wandering with a frozen glazed smile while intrusive flash bulbs go off in my face all day. i am not a photo op, i am a person who loves the people i know and i know they want to see me and my beloved and capture the day for themselves too, but that’s not my idea of relaxing and beautiful, that’s exhausting! and i apologize to anyone for whom that sounds harsh, but i prefer a more subdued and simple affair. and the MONEY shelled out and the arguments that erupt over these things! i won’t even begin on those topics . . .

all the Pavlovian things that people drool over and actually EXPECT at these events: clinking glasses for kisses, tossing bouquets, head tables, cutting the cake after dinner and smashing food into each other’s faces, big, glorious, highly-anticipated, clunky speeches that everyone dislikes writing and is nervous to hear. these items are NOT going to occur at the “community” version of our wedding later. so please don’t expect to be asked to perform and don’t expect to sit, beg and roll over.

we won’t be having a standup wedding party of bridesmaids, so no women in my life will feel slighted or looked over or have to buy a standard, necessary, one-style-fits-none hideous dress worn only once. we will acknowledge everyone integral to the event by their mere invite and presence. sure, mom and dads (who apply) and those who have most closely witnessed the relationship grow will get heavier nods but that’s where the supposed VIP list ends.

we are trying very hard to de-emphasize the “wedding/marriage” aspect of the day coming up in a week. as far as witnessing, no one will see us exchange vows. there aren’t any, really. the celebrant is coming solely to sign papers at 2pm, Joe and i will privately exchange rings and a simple writing project we have agreed to compose for each other, which we will not see from each other until the day. i will assume his last name, we will . . . you know – take a little nap for a few hours, then have people over to eat at 6pm or so.

when the public wedding occurs down the road, we will have a slightly larger celebration that everyone can attend that is well-announced. on this Sunday, we just want to nosh on some food and see some friends and not keep it selfishly for our own. it is more one of our usual roving dinner / wine parties, with a little extra impetus for the gathering.

you know us little heathens, a pagan wedding suits us. i mean, initially, we weren’t going to tell anyone. we were going to just marry in secret and trek out to the woods to see autumn begin and cook dinner and make love and fall asleep joined in one additional way we hadn’t been before. so this Sunday is our compromise.

i’m not a princess or a virgin and i bring no cattle, no land or a dowry, so white is out.

i am going to go look for a dress today.

red, i’m sure.

food, friends, marriage, photography, relationships, writing

i can run on anything – or binding, releasing . . .

:::
the head is a crown
a trap with teeth when open,
abound when clamped,
asleep and all these tendrils
of light and ferns
bring inner life
as the outer one burns . . .
:::

Sometimes, it’s impossible to escape your own mind. constant flow of worries and random tasks and preoccupation, consternation, mental masturbation trying to make yourself feel good by arranging, stretching, reordering and so, if you’re like me, you must take it and remove it from the psychic plane, untie the lines, and move it to the physical plane . . . DO something to make it quiet in there with meditative motions. binding. release.

i’ve been spending a lot of nice time with Megan – afternoon lunches, wine drinking, music listening, all of this in preparation for her wedding. we’ve been attending hot hot hot Hot Yoga classes at a nice studio. This is where they heat the room from 90-103 degrees, you wear next to nothing and bend yourself, working slowly into poses in which sweat drips into your eyes from the bridge of your nose, off your fingertips as it rolls down your arms, and you appear to be boffing the invisible. it’s pretty sexy . . . with poses and binding that undo the bindings. release.

One evening, Megan, her friend Violet and i spent a few hours tying chopsticks together with red ribbons: a dragon on one, a phoenix on the other, and the bride and groom’s names on both. These chopsticks were intended as wedding favors for a Chinese Banquet (which i will get to later . . . ) we did this until our fingertips were red-pink like they get when you eat an entire bag of red-dyed pistachio nuts during a Sunday nite movie marathon. (not that i’ve ever done this) This ribbon-affixing job took two bottles of wine to complete . . . i often gauge the difficulty of a job by the number of wine bottles it takes to complete. binding. release.

In between, i brewed a pot of blood orange tea while the three of us sat, steeped, traded stories, broke out the tortilla chips and salsa and somewhere in there, marinated a salmon filet, steamed some spinach and yellow rice all the while, still tying the red ribbons around chopsticks. binding. release.

Megan’s then fiancé, now husband and i went for a late nite walk down to the water after the chopsticks were all tied. It began to rain and he, a gentleman offering his coat asked, “Would you like a hood?”

And me, Red Riding Hood in training quipped, “No thank you, i have hair.” That nite, the three of us sat on a bench by the water and made up one of the most ridiculous parodies sung to the tune of “They can’t take that away from me.” It was a strangely sinister diddy about living in an abusive relationship. And i think now, it was funny, because we laugh at the things we are most afraid of. We cracked ourselves up, though – and really, Michael and Megan are a wonderful couple.

Which leads me to the photos and Megan’s wedding day. It began innocently enough, except for some odd reason, i couldn’t get my car to start, which sent me into a minor panic. We keep a drum of biodiesel on our property which we fill at a station further out as all of our cars are diesel engines and it’s convenient to have and cleaner burning. The morning before the wedding i was running late to work and filled up a container and dumped it into my tank. All i could think was something was wrong with the biodiesel, water in it, too cold of an engine to get it gong. My car was running REALLY sludgy. i called Brooks’ brother at work.

“Hey Jesse, my car is having a hard time starting, cranking really hard and all that. Is something wrong that it won’t tolerate the fuel mix?”

“Oh – did you use the white drum in the garage corner, because that’s cooking oil.”

Jesse then explained he was doing a conversion to an old Mercedes so that installing something to preheat the oil would allow the car to run on it as a regular fuel. i didn’t quite have that luxury and so, just so you know and for fun future reference . . . Mercedes CAN run on fucking WESSON oil.

In any event i had allowed myself plenty of time, got on the road, refilled and evened out the mix and arrived before the bride returned from her hair and nail appointments, so all was good.

The wedding was lovely – FAST, but lovely. The bridal party wore red (my favorite) and all the trees glowed with that same burning . . . The ONLY hitch/drawback was that ever present threat and problem . . . MORE photographers than agreed on. The groom’s mother had asked two friends to shoot some photos for the family and so, there i was jockeying for position and competing with flash banks. It was a bit of a nitemare, but i still think i produced some decent shots. Particularly when we went on a walk and i had more control. And hey – if i didn’t get it all, i’m certain the rest of the family can provide some additional photos.

Goodnite Kiss

The wedding was on a Thursday and that Sunday, the Chinese side of Megan’s new family, the inlaws hosted a Chinese Banquet which Brooks and i attended. This was 10 courses of lazy-susaned passed food, some of it very palatable, some of it exotic and texturally offensive, but all of it VERY authentic. It was a nice event.

Megan and i had gone shopping the week before and i had fallen in love with a corset that i bought at her insistence. i finally found one that fit perfectly and when i came out of the dressing room, Megan declared, “i’m not letting you leave without that.” Of course, i realize now that i went shopping with her so she could make me buy things, or so we joked . . .

i’ve been preparing and eating a lot of stir fry lately, chopping fresh vegetables, sometimes adding chicken, but mostly brown and spicy with jasmine rice. call it a kick . . . and also oops i did it again, i cut my hair.

shorter.

it has some highlights and lowlights ranging in violet, cinnamon, copper, honey and some deep cherry reds. it’s a LOT of fun and feels terrific!

so the purpose of my opening little poem that occurred to me after seeing a pencil sketch (i hope i can find it again so i can share with you the visual inspiration . . .) my thoughts about undoing the bindings and releasing is my latest mantra – the only thing i can do to stay tethered to this world. this and feel connected to my friends and invest time in the people i love. those things and also, make use of the 3-month membership unlimited to the yoga studio that my mother bought me for my upcoming birthday . . .

i will be 33 June 19th, a very nice number. Getting involved in all of these wedding proceedings and pregnancies and births has been nice, to see and feel so much love and investment between people. in some ways too, though i doubt i will ever be married (both for the headache of the preparations and the grim possibility of the need for a clean break should anything go awry) i hate to think like that, but it’s the pragmatist in me that begs to keep my head on straight. i LIKE the idea of marriage, just as i LIKE children, but i don’t think either of those things will be a part of my life.

And i leave this last part to the women who read this . . . do you feel strange or awkward or pressured or sad, or more succinctly like a failure if you don’t find yourself engaged, married and or in the midst of planning a family?

And if you’re someone like me who understands that neither marriage nor children are guarantees that will bind you forever and lovingly to a mate, then – what is the alternative? What types of occupations or commitments or arrangements in your relationship makes you feel like you are safe in this world; that you will be with someone who loves you and reciprocates your loves, needs and desires? What makes you feel like you are doing fine and have no need to keep up with the staus quo?

how do you escape the trappings in your head and make your outer (public) life match the inner (private) life so that your parents will hush and your friends won’t ascribe you to the land of failed or incomplete womanhood?

me – i cut my hair, i go for catharsis, i steep til it’s hot, i change my image, my vision, i mutate my indecision, i sweat out the ills and forego the pills and stretch myself into new positions, walk in the rain, try different fuel sources, tie things with ribbons, put on the corset, cling tight to my friends and love . . .

undo the bindings. release.