The New Jewels in the Jewelry Box: Considering a Gem of an Ex

It was the patriot cluster of red, white, and blue that caught my eye as I walked past my office’s mail/copy room. The lone envelope in my mailbox was stocked with enough forever stamps to take it to the moon and back. When I saw the return address, I smiled warmly as I thought this was just like him. He never wanted to let me down or disappoint me. He would do whatever he had to to make sure the USPS wouldn’t fail me.

Inside the envelop, wrapped thoughtfully in a paper towel was my missing earring. A giant peridot-like stud that he had given me for Christmas and that I had left at his house weeks earlier, before we decided to part ways. The post of the earring had been bent in transit so it lay flat against the crystal  (or perhaps he had bent it before he sent it? Another precaution so it wouldn’t poke through the envelope and get lost en route? That was also just like him.) I started to try to unbend it… it wouldn’t budge. Just then, my boss walked into my office.

kate-spade-new-york-blue-faceted-small-square-stud-earrings-product-1-19644834-0-774214613-normal
They’re kind of the perfect earrings

“I have a jeweler who can fix that for you.”

“I have a pair of pliers.”

“You’d better heat it up then. Wouldn’t want to break it.”

That would have been ironic. I dropped the earring into a cup of boiling water and sat at my desk. I played our time together through my head as I let the metal warm.
Had he been different, had those earrings been different, I might not have asked for it back. Given how long we had been seeing each other when he gave them to me, they were the gift I least expected. Not only were they jewelry (remember the ex boyfriend who refused to buy me earrings?) they were the exact pair I had been stalking at the Kate Spade store near my work. It seemed that at only two months in, he had already figured me out.

And maybe he had since day one. Our first date had been 5-star, after all. He had worn a suit and tie. I had worn my favorite Milly skirt and red patent heels.  A refreshing change from the oh so many swipe-started first dates where I almost didn’t care if I had shown up in sweat pants.

The relationship that came before him had been defined by a lack of communication. Ours had been defined by intimacy — we had been open about our relationships past and our fears entering this one, about our personal short comings, and about the road blocks we had faced that  had in turn made us strong. We lusted after each other for the superficial things, but admired each other for the things that mattered. We weren’t afraid to take the risks that come with opening up.  He was the first guy I’d dated who ever showed any genuine interest in all the parts that made up my life — from the gallery to my family to my sport to my blog.

I took the earring out of the cup and bent the post back into place.  I’d been carrying around its mate in my purse and immediately, I popped the reunited pair into my ears. When he and I broke up exactly two weeks earlier I didn’t cry. When we broke up, I don’t know that I felt the feelings that make you want to cry. I don’t know that I felt anything but relief — I wasn’t making him happy, and let me tell you, being unable to make someone happy can be exhausting.

Later that night as I went to put the earrings into my jewelry box, I cried. Running through it all — from start to last text message — I realized just how final our good-bye had been and I was sorry for that. But at least I had this new favorite pair of earrings, and to always wear with them, a cache of warm memories and lessons about life, love, and Legos.

 


Author’s note:

In something of an ironic twist, about two weeks later I lost the earring again, at an art fair. This time, it is clearly for good. Lesson learned: somethings are just not meant to be.

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Behind Home Plate: Considering a Woman’s Place

league3In my hometown, girls who wanted to play in Little League played on co-ed baseball teams until the 5th grade. Despite being the generation that watched “A League of Their Own” in the theaters, there weren’t many of us who wanted to be Dottie Hinson (played by Geena Davis). We were evenly distributed across all the teams, and that meant that most of the time there were no more than two of us. I wanted to pitch, but a coach told me: “Girls don’t pitch.” But I had a good arm, so I was put in right field (well, that was the justification for it, anyway.) Girl 2 on the team was also put in the outfield… a fake position called “center right.”

Often at practice, Girl 2 and I would out-slug the guys. But when it came to setting up the order, we were always placed at the bottom. Come game time, when we’d get up to bat we were heckled by the boys on both teams — by our teammates and by the opponents. The male coaches never did anything to make the boys shut up. If I struck out, which I did a lot (and no more than the boys), I’d be met back in the dugout with “what do you expect from a girl!?”

When I was finally old enough to join the all-girls softball league, everything changed. I became a starting pitching, a top-of-the-order batter, an All-Star. When we’d play co-ed softball in gym-class, I was a first round draft because I could out-everything the boys.

There was no more heckling. There was just the game.

1923570_528551231932_5298_nI remember being in pre-school and wanting to be a boy. I’d try to pee standing up (I learned after one attempt that we’re just not built for that.) I guess it’s a phase all children go through — that phase when they’re trying to understand what makes us different from the other kids on the playground, and then trying to appropriate some of those differences… because the grass is always greener on the other side.

Maybe that’s why I preferred a hammer, nails, and a block of wood to dolls when it came to toys. My school folders had cars on them instead of “My Little Pony.” As I got older and moved into sports, I always played with the boys. I’d swim in the boys’ lanes, or go to their practices in girls’ off season. I fight the boys in karate and bout with the boys at fencing practice. In college, I majored in Economics. I did my problem sets with the boys and go for morning runs with the boys.

And then I’d throw on a pair of high heels, a bedazzled shirt and some eyeliner and drink beers with the boys. The boys would often still be in their gym clothes.

The battle of the genders begins from day one. There’s only a short, sweet time when the playing field is level and then the realizations kick in – boys and girls are not the same.

We fall from Eden.

Putting aside basic biology, what is it that makes men and women so different? To me, it’s all about experience. We fall from Eden not because we realize our nakedness, we realize we don’t have access to the same opportunities. The boys on my little league team were never told they couldn’t pitch because they were boys. As we think of what makes us strong as women, so much of what empowers us is how we learn to define ourselves in relation to the boys — even if we don’t want to admit it. What if my little league team had been 50-50 boys and girls? What if my coach had had daughters instead of sons? Would I still have been told “girls can’t?” Would someone have said “boys can’t?”

 

Ink Me Up

“Why would you want to add a tattoo to that perfect skin? You’re beautiful just the way you are. Besides, you already have this…”

The Admiral ran a finger over a small candy-cane shaped cluster of freckles on my arm. It’s not a marking you’ll readily notice, but it’s a distinguishing feature — my birth-given tattoo, courtesy of god’s (or whoever’s) henna-inked pin-pricks.

Then he added: “I hate tattoos, especially on women. It’s almost a deal breaker.”

I had just shared that I had wanted a bit of ink since I was a teenager. Something small and meaningful. It was an inevitability, I just hadn’t all the way settled on what and where. He was clearly less enthused, and while I appreciated the compliment, I was less keen on the attempted coercion. (When the Admiral and I broke up, one of the first things I did as a purge was cut my hair short because he liked my hair long. His need for dominance brought out the insubordinate in me.)

Two years later, I was dating Chris, a muscle-bound, bearded guy I met at my gym. Like oh, so many New York/Long Island/Westchester bred late 20-somethings, Chris had tats you could see… and several you couldn’t. He was a soft-spoken physiotherapist who liked the outdoors, adored his sister, and played an acoustic guitar. The elaborate ink, including a large inscription across his chest, which peeked out from under his workout wife-beater seemed in total contradiction to his mild-mannered ways. The tattoos were among his most attractive qualities — it suggested a little bad boy behind a teddy bear exterior.

Our first date was at a craft-beer gastropub on the Hudson River. Our waitress, a tall, slim alabaster-skinned woman with jet black hair restrained in long braids a la Bo Derek, had more than a few tattoos emerging from every corner of her outfit — stars creeping up her neck, roses growing down her arm onto her hand, a flock of swallows on her shoulder blade.

I could tell he was fascinated.

“Yea, I mean, I like women with ink,” he said when I asked. “I have ink. I think it’s sexy. It makes you different, and I like different. Have you ever thought of getting a tattoo?”

Well, actually… now that you mention it, I had this one idea…

When I was 12, I was all about henna and temporary tattoos. When my parents and I would vacation in Mexico, I would get those string wraps in my hair and then visit the airbrush-tattoo parlor for something. A butterfly on my arm. A heart on my ankle.

Beyonce is just one of many celebs and private citizens rocking metallic tattoos these days
Beyonce is just one of many celebs and private citizens rocking metallic tattoos these days

In the 90s, much like now with sponge-on metallic tattoos, temporary tattoos were all the fashion. Maybelline made this liquid temporary tattoo ink in different colors that came in a bottle like liquid eyeliner, complete with fine-tipped brush. I had several of those. Then I bought a body-art stamp and body-ink pad — a small pepper I’d always add to my shoulder when it was summertime. #HotTamale My parents (well, my mother) even gave me a henna kit for Christmas. They seemed to have no beef with the prospect of their daughter rocking some body art… as long as it was temporary.

Maybe this was just a phase, they thought. She’ll grow out of it. She’ll never get behind the idea of having to commit to one of those butterflies forever and ever…

One could argue that I did indeed grow out of it. Eventually I stopped adorning myself with things that pressed on and washed off. In college, I had a few friends who did that stereotypical college thing — get plastered and then get terrible, terrible, terrible tattoos. That was a bit of a turn off. So I quieted that desire to get ink of my own.

Then I turned 30, and in a rosé-dazed moment I made a deal with a friend that we would get tats together before the end of the year.

“You know, you could just get a custom designed bracelet,” a friend witnessing the pact suggested as a less permanent alternative.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working my way through the sheets of temporary ink, designed for teenagers and purchased at Claire’s. I have a hidden pintrest board where I’m collecting line drawings that suit my vision. The temporary tattoos in more visible spots, like my forearm and wrist, have been met with universal enthusiasm. My new assistant has even come up with a handful of tattoos all members of #TeamGallery can get together – “we can each get one of the women in Picasso’s Demoiselles D’Avignon! And then when we stand next to each other, we’ll be a masterpiece! Or you can get a hammer, and we’ll each get nails!”

I’ve listened to the stories and meaning people imbue into their ink. People with tats get incredibly excited when they hear someone is thinking of getting their first. I’ve picked up willing moral-supporters who will go with me when I get mine done. I’ve racked up a long list of artists I should work with. I’ve heard people tell me they’ve made their appointments for laser removals. I’ve shared my own idea with people, including my mother, who said: Aww, that’s nice (it’s about my family), but it could be ugly. Can’t you come up with something better?

All of this sounds like I should be leading to an ending of this post where I share a photo of my new tattoo. I haven’t quite bitten the bullet yet. I’m getting there. In the meantime, I still have a sheet of temporary tats to work through…

Out of the Bell Jar and into the Mason Jar: Considering a Literary Classic and my Teenage Years

“That’s the most depressing book.”

A tall, swim-suit sporting man shouted at me as he sauntered over to the pool’s towel stand. He clearly cross-fitted. #ThoseAbs. I paused and looked up from the book in question which was Syliva Plath’s “The Bell Jar.”

“It is. I clearly have terrible taste in pool-side reads.”

This is one thing I love about California: you don’t need to have a “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit model body to get attention at the pool (that’s because, thanks to cross-fit, botox, and boob jobs, everyone has a SI swimsuit model body). No, to stand out at the pool, you just need some socially progressive modernist literature.

He winked. Suggested I switch to something like Cosmo, and was off before I had a chance to exchange room numbers (it’s entirely possible that the toddler toddling behind him was, in fact his, but then again, at hotel pools it’s so hard to tell which parent belongs to which child… oh, well.)

My pool-side view in Silicon Valley. A little 20th century feminist lit didn't make light reading
My pool-side view in Silicon Valley. A little 20th century feminist lit didn’t make light reading

I had committed to reading such heavy literature at the pool side for two simple reasons: 1. I don’t do fluffy chick-lit, and 2. It was research for the gender-identity/femininity exhibition I’m in the process of curating.

For those that haven’t read Sylvia Plath’s one canonical novel, it was to the 1960s what Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” was to the 1890s. If you’ve never read “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and have no idea what I’m talking about, “The Bell Jar” reads a lot like “Catcher in the Rye.” If you’ve never read “Catcher in the Rye,” well, shame on you and your grade school English teacher.

Here’s the mega abbreviated cliff’s notes run down: Esther Greenwood is a successful and attractive 19 year old college girl who lands a great summer internship at a mega lady’s magazine in New York City. But just when the future looks bright and full of possibilities, Esther hits a wall. She breaks down, crashes, and bottoms out.

The story is dark. The writing, superb.

But as much as I was engrossed in and enjoying such wonderfully, honestly crafted prose, I’m glad I didn’t read it was I was 19. I think it would have felt too familiar… even more familiar than it already does…

Digging around my bedroom this weekend, I found a notebook with the jottings of a frustrated young story writer. Most of the scribbling came from ages 16-20, and they all raged with a kind of loneliness and angst. I think I felt that stories about breakdowns and being misunderstood where what you were supposed to be writing about if you wanted to be considered a good writer. Melodrama seemed to be a prerequisite for the Pulitzer or for making the American English classroom curricula. I don’t think any of what I was writing was reflective of what I felt or of my mental state because I never got very far with them (try like, 3 pages, max.) But then again, I don’t really remember how I felt about life or school at 16. I was just kind of doing rather than feeling. Feeling came in college.

But I did find one piece of writing that was troubling to me, because it was the one piece that wasn’t an attempt at fiction. It was an attempted personal essay and the only thing in the book that was typed, with blue-ink edits.

In it, I rattled off my string of accomplishments, concluding with “I was considered mature and well-round, well cultured and intellectual. Yet something was missing.”

The punchline, of course, because I was 18, was that I needed a boyfriend. Reading it, while I admired her self-awareness and vulnerability, I hated that teenage version of myself for defining happiness in terms of being attached to someone else. I couldn’t go to college without being someone’s girlfriend! I wrote. “The fact I had never been kissed seemed small in comparison.”

Flash to Esther:

“Instead of the world being divided up into Catholics and Protestants or Republicans and Democrats or white men and black men or even men and women, I saw the world divided into people who had slept with somebody and people who hadn’t, and this seemed the only really significant difference between one person and another.

I thought a spectacular change would come over me the day I crossed the boundary line.” 

This was how I saw the world — a simple division between lovers and loners. Reading on, I saw that 18 year old me hated me for feeling that way too. What a relief. As I got older, while the idea of a companion was and is always intoxicatingly appealing, there was another feeling I had — a fear of being tied down.

Flash back to Esther:

“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored around from a fourth of July rocket. “

There’s a lot of vignettes in the “Bell Jar” I could relate to at 19 and even now. Ones that are in many ways more meaningful to me than the ones about men, about the double standards for the sexes, about marriage. Esther has a moment when she compares her moment in life to standing under a fig tree. Each fig represents a possible path — marriage and a family, Olympics, famous writer, famous editor, and so on. But she can only pick one, and once she does, all the other will fall, spoiled. The tree of possibility can get you down — knowing you have so many options but can’t really have them all. I remember sitting alone on my university quad one cold late autumn night while I was grad student, feeling overwhelmed by possibilities and crying a bit at a fear of achieving non of them, of mucking it all up. But unlike Esther, I didn’t let the fear of failure or indecision win. I learned that with a little cunning, and fast feet, you can grab as many fruit as you can before they all go rotten. Maybe you won’t get them all, but you’ll get enough to make a decent pie… sharing optional.

In life, you can have your pies and eat them too.
In life, you can have your pies and eat them too.

Blogging in the Post Carrie Bradshaw Era

“Your friends must be really boring if you’re contacting me after all this time,” I typed into a gchat box that emerged without warning from a user I had long ago hidden from my chat list.

“Not the case here. All of a sudden I remembered your blog and wondered how you were doing.”

A little over 2 years ago, I had parked my car in an upper west side garage, a stone’s throw from the American Museum of Natural History (read: a neighborhood with premium parking rates) and met a 30-something lawyer for lunch. It was my second date of the day, having already breakfasted with an artist/industrial designer turned tech-recycler (is that a thing? Maybe his official title was Project Manager…). I had been seeing the Designer for about a month by this time, but it was going nowhere about as fast as a black hole. The Lawyer had potential, and he had been appropriately (maybe inappropriately, depending on your degree of conservatism) aggressive in his pursuit. I’d met them both online. I knew to temper my expectations.

After our date, which was a challenge, I went home and ranted on my blog. It was the first time I had ever railed against a guy, and I grouped him in with a string of unsuccessful online dates, belittling him and some guys who were, at the core, decent guys but just a bit oblivious. The Lawyer called me out, and I retracted the post and replaced it with an apology and philosophical definition of what this blog is all about. We didn’t speak again, until this week when he felt the need to apologize (!?!?! Wasn’t I the one who behaved badly?)

It happens with surprising frequency that I go out on a date and for some reason, mostly because he’s done his due diligence and researched me prior to our rendez-vous, my blog comes up. Most never read past the title or the “About Me” section, and so they proceed under particular assumptions.

The Professor, who is 20 years my senior and was a lunch companion earlier this summer: “Now, I don’t want to see our conversation end up in a blog post!”

A guy I think I briefly dated in 2011: “Feel free to write about me all you want. Just make sure you let everyone know how awesome I am.”

My Ex, who is the only ex to get a capital E (I think he actually read the blog, and might still): “I want to make sure you won’t have anything to write about any more.”

What they all assume is that this blog is “tell-all” dating blog. But here’s the thing: if I write about how terrible a date was, or how stupid a guy might be, then to do it fairly, to make it a post that says anything, then I need to turn the lens back on myself. Most single-girl blogs read like this: I went on this bad blind date, I had this one-night stand, this is my hook-up buddy, Why can’t my best guy friend figure out that he should be in love with me.

Writing a typical single-girl dating blog is relatively easy. But I’ve never been a fan of what’s easy.

I want you to read something of substance. Not everything that happens on a date or in the bedroom has substance. And, the simple truth is, some things need to stay inside a relationship.

If single-girl/dating blogs are a by-product of the Sex and the City era, most of us do Carrie Bradshaw a great injustice. When Carrie wrote about the men that breezed through her life, she tried to reason through a moral – didn’t every episode start with a “philosophical” question? What we saw play out in each episode where not only Big’s flaws, but Carrie’s… and in turn, the flaws in romantic relationships and even friendships.

Writing to ridicule men is boring, or at least it’s one tone. And if part of your impetus for blogging is a general frustration with men, perhaps getting hung up on all the ways men fail you is part of why we’re single. The way I see it is: it’s more interesting when you look at why YOU were hurt or disappointed, and what that says about you, your expectations, and your relationship goals. He’s only ½ the problem.

My Lawyer is case in point – he was a decent guy who felt bad sparks didn’t fly. I never gave him a chance, I just attacked him on the internet. “You are entertaining,” he wrote last week, 2.5 years after our infamous lunch. “We should have stayed friendly.”

Learning to Run

People often refer to me as “The Redhead,” but in pre-school, I was a blonde. The kind of golden-streaked blonde you’d associate with a child who spent her free afternoons outside frolicking in the sunshine. I wasn’t that kind of blonde.  No, my toddler-age blonde locks were either simply explained by “it’s her first head of hair,” or a recessive Aryan gene that wouldn’t show itself again until my teen years when I developed the kind of tree-trunk like legs I can only associate with those German Recklings  who, I’m sure, also had names like Heidi and Gertrude.

No one gave me this lesson
No one gave me this lesson

I was just never one of those kids who got a thrill out of running around outside.

The pre-school I attended had a playground nestled on the base of a huge, steep hill. Sitting in the sandbox, the grassy slope looked like it stretched straight up to the sky. When I go back now, I think I need a climbing harness to scale it. When my classmates and I were 4, all we needed was our lunchtime chocolate milk. We’d joyfully trek to the top, our teachers huffing and puffing behind. I realize now that they only allowed us to do this because recess was immediately followed by nap time and what better way to tire children out than let them climb up Mt. Everest, without oxygen. Once at the summit, we’d let loose and run, at full speed back to the bottom.

It only took one misplaced step and a badly grass-burned knee for me to realize this was a terrible way to have fun.

Long and short of it, running didn’t suit my build. I was bottom heavy and plump. Plus it caused injuries. But my tumble and the subsequent gauze bandage flicked on a light switch. Why run down the hill when you can roll down a hill?

As a rotund child, trying to power my legs in coordinated circular motions at high-speed seemed inefficient. Rolling, on the other hand, was just a simple case of transferring my weight from one side of my body to the other, in the same direction. Something I did on a regular basis, like when I was getting out of bed. Gravity would take care of the rest. All I had to do was steer away from the occasional rock and keep my eyes closed.

This must have been how the cavemen discovered the wheel: they pushed the fat kid down the hill and watched him roll.

The truth was I hated running. Relay races were the bane of my existence. The only reason I batted clean-up in Little League was that I had learned that if I hit a homerun, I wouldn’t need to outrun a throw to first. In fact, if I hit a homerun, I wouldn’t have to run the bases at all – I could quickly stroll around them. I hit a lot of homeruns. I also walked a lot. I guess you could say my distaste for running helped me develop a “good-eye.”

Running suicides really was suicide for me, and the Presidential Fitness Test’s Mile Run usually put me under for a week — even if I was relatively sporty.

But then came life as a Division 1 Collegiate Athlete.

In college, I seemed to find my legs as a runner. I’d wake up and hit Riverside Park before class. I wasn’t fast, but I had endurance. It was part of my cross-training between competitive seasons. And when I was having a rough stretch in class or in my social life, I’d hit the road and let my legs go until I thought they’d fall off. Running became a way to clear my head and heal emotional wounds. I became rather good at it.

I can’t run anymore. A sport-related accident makes running painful again and to my inner-4-year old’s surprise, I miss it.

On the up side, I can still roll down a hill, carelessly, and joyfully.

panda!