dating for friends?

Lately I’ve been thinking about the commonalities between developing new friendships as an adult and the experience of dating. For a lot of reasons, “dating” isn’t on my radar these days. But, as my daughters are getting older and much more independent, I’ve found myself venturing out into the world in new ways; that includes noticing people with whom I might find friendship. I’m finding it’s a lot like dating.

Here’s what I mean:

hm, that person seems interesting –> maybe we should hang out –> let’s hang out –> agreement/expression of mutual interest –> plan –> hanging out (a walk, coffee, a movie, a meal, or some activity) –> contact following the hanging out –> self-doubt (was my text goofy? overwhelming? too much? not enough?) –> interpretations of responses–> texting (or not) –> one or the other or both make obvious efforts to have a repeat performance of the original hanging out.

Do you see how this could be dating or it could be making a new friend?

I’ve had the experience in the past few years of knowing people about whom I think “we could be totally excellent amazing friends” but, for whatever reasons, they don’t see me in the same way. When that happens in dating, I usually know not to take that personally. It’s not me, it’s that we’re not a good fit. I’ve used hindsight and lessons from dating to heal some of my small wounds from failed attempts at friendship.

I’ve also had the experience in the past few years of people reaching out to me to hang out but I drop the ball. In hindsight, some of those dropped balls were tossed to me from interesting people. So, I’m going back to pick up the ball where it makes sense.

With new friends there are all kinds of negotiations, just like in dating. What does “friend” mean to this person? What level of communication do they expect vs. what I expect? Historically, my closest and most intimate friends have not always been the same people I see or talk to regularly. Because my children have been young, most of my energy is used mothering. And, I’m an introvert (for real! not because it’s trendy!).

As my life is changing, will my willingness to invest in and availability for friendship change, too? I’m not sure. I suspect I’m a bit of an old dog who won’t learn many new tricks. But, I’m keeping my mind open. All I can do is try. As with dating, so with friendships; I will depend on my mantra from the 12 step recovery program I hold so dear: “progress, not perfection.”

my racism story, part 2 (more background)

The part of my racism story I want to share now is from 2007, though it includes a reference to the experiences I shared in my racism story, part 1 (or, “will you be my black friend?”). It’s my hope that my friends and peers who are white might read my stories and consider their own experiences as people in America who identify as white; who, therefore, benefit from the racist structures of our society. I have found it helpful over the years to get honest with myself about the flickering but problematic background thought processes that have blocked me from authentic relationships with people of color:

“she’s Black, she’s Black, she’s BLAAAAACK!”

“She’s Black, she’s Black, she’s BLAAAAACK!” was just about all my brain could handle. Maintaining a simple and polite conversation was barely possible. No matter how much we had in common, no matter how likely a future friendship, I could think of nothing but that amazing dark skin, the transcendent hair texture, and my entire personal history of race relationships. Oh, how I wanted to prove to this woman that I was not like just any white woman! I knew, of course, it was just this level of self-consciousness that would make me utterly annoying to her. But, I just couldn’t help myself.

Helping myself, though, is really what race relations is about for me these days. I do care about the greater socio-political issues (shocking disregard for people’s lives all across the continent of Africa, overt brutality in our country, job discrimination, and of course the list goes on). However, my personal journey with racism now centers around me, my husband, and most of all, my daughter…

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to my friend who hates it when people accuse him of microaggressions

A few minutes ago I wrote a quick but sort of long reply to a friend on Facebook. He’s a friend I’ve known online for almost twenty years. He’s quite progressive and was always on the same side as me in the heated debates of Usenet in the 90s. He replied to a link I shared in a way that disappointed me, though. I felt like this wasn’t the guy I knew, so I wanted to know more. I told him how I felt about his reply, and it came up that he dislikes the term “microaggressions” because people jump on him for apparently using them. As I said, I just replied to him. I like my reply a lot, so I’m going to share it here:

I think liberals who feel “woke” or that they’ve got some better and deeper understandings about racism, including their own racism are eager to share their new-found knowledge. I think they do this in different ways and for different reasons. (Gonna stop saying “I think” and assume you know it’s there.) In many cases, they’re so riled up with a passion to fix things that they jump on any situation that they now see as problematic and begin accusing.

Accusing, rather than mindfully discussing, does a couple things. It gives the accuser a feeling of power, like, I CAN DO SOMETHING! and it’s energizing. The accuser also gets to distance themselves from their own remaining racism. THAT person is still racist and I see it because I’m SO not racist!

I also think that microaggressions are so pervasive, insidious, and crazy-making (they are a lot like Gas Lighting, if you know that concept?) that accusing someone of using microaggressions probably isn’t all that helpful. They’re really slippery and hard to pin down.

What I’d do, if I saw someone doing something that felt like a microaggression to me (for me, it’s a feeling or intuition, not a factual thing) I might say something to them about how I felt and how I think the feeling came from those words or actions. I’d definitely not accuse or shame someone.

If the conversation went on and the context made it appropriate, I might talk about what “microaggression” means to me.

So, when your fellow liberals jump on you for doing something that seems extreme or ridiculous, I suspect it’s mostly about their own need to feel better and empowered. But, if you are disturbed by their accusations, I also suspect (as I said about your reaction to the linked article) there’s probably some uglier truth for you in the accusations. I don’t think anyone can make you want to dig into it unless you are curious.

And, finally, it’s an unfortunate problem (among many) that people who are trying so hard to make our communities more equitable are actually just kind of fucking things up even more. Giving a bad name to good information.

Why I might not say anything (racism)

Anyone who knows me well knows I’d be more likely than most to boldly, brazenly, even “rudely” object if I witnessed injustice. I don’t worry much about how I’m perceived, relatively speaking, when it comes to social justice. I act.

That said, reflecting on this powerful video, I’ve considered a few reasons why I haven’t spoken up in the past and why I might not in the future.

If you haven’t seen it, check out the video. The woman describes her experience being implicitly accused of trying to pass a bad check simply because she is Black. Her friend (sister-in-law? I forget), a woman who looks white, intercedes and appropriately shames the clerk into better behavior. There’s more to the story, and it’s worth watching.

As I said, on reflection, I’m not sure I will usually say something when I witness racism (or any other -ism). Here’s why:

  1. The woman who stepped up and did the right thing was familiar (family, even) with the woman being mistreated. She knew her so the context was all the more absurd and wrong. This relates to #2.
  2. While I consider fighting racism my business and our fight, the pride people take in “fighting their own battles” is quite strong. I’d be concerned that I’d seem condescending or patronizing if I said something to the clerk. I’d worry the other person might think I didn’t think they could handle things on their own.
  3. If the situation were as “Black and white” as the experience shared in the video, I can tell you without a doubt that I would say something. In fact, that’s a big part of who I am. I risk rudeness when I see injustice. I don’t stay quiet. But, the truth is, the racism I witness (and I witness it a lot) boils down to a gut feeling. The nervous laughter and fumbling of a clerk who doesn’t know how to just be a person with another person and makes everyone involved uncomfortable. A receptionist who is mildly cold to a fellow patient. Or a dirty look that just screams bigotry but no words are exchanged.

That’s it. The racism I witness is almost exclusively of the “plausibly deniable” variety. It’s subtle, insidious, and evil. Standing up and doing the right thing is more complicated than the video above implies. I am not, in any way, condoning staying silent. In fact, if it weren’t for my concern that I might make the object of the racism uncomfortable by stepping in, I might very well get direct with a clerk for the shitty eye glares they give. Can you imagine it, thought? If it were my friend who was getting that cold awkward ugliness, and I knew they’d understand I was using my privilege for good, you can be sure I’d call the bigot out on their bullshit. But, a stranger? a subtle interaction? It’s not so simple.

I’ll be thinking about how to fight those plausibly deniable offenses for a long time. I’ll also be thinking with empathy about the people who don’t have the luxury of just thinking about the offenses, but have to live them every day of their lives.

“Breathing. (twitter.)”

Sometimes I see an image in my mind. Sometimes it’s just a strong flow of feelings. Usually, it’s a little of both. In all cases, I never know exactly how a picture will turn out when I start. Sometimes, I have no idea at all what it will be, I just start drawing (or painting).

That’s what I did with this painting. I picked up the leftover nubs of oil pastels and just started scribbling and smearing them all over the birch panel. When I don’t know what I’ll be painting or drawing, that’s what I do. I find just moving my hand with the medium gets things going.

I started with the “just get color on the panel.” I added more color and still nothing was forming. I set it aside and worked on some other things.

A few days later, I had a dm (direct message, a kind of “chatting” on twitter) conversation with @tackie_jackie who suggested I make a painting about the word “breathing.” When I’m overstimulated, overwhelmed, or simply need to get back to my center (and, typically, away from technology), I’ve developed a habit of tweeting the word “Breathing.” and then walking away for a bit. Noticing my breathing has been an important part of my life in the last many months.

So, here are some pictures of the progression of the painting that is now complete. It is called: Breathing. (twitter.)

[youtube:http://youtu.be/ThWgNvV0LNs]

This and several other of my paintings will be hanging at the Starbucks on Congress at High/Free Streets in downtown Portland (Maine) starting on May 2, 2012. I would be thrilled and honored if you would check them out.