+ a workshop announcement
Joan Semmel, Red Hand, 2019
January has been a month of revelations, though I’m always worried about how real they are and how long they’ll last. Still, it feels like I’m changing, breaking through to something different. I don’t know the cause.
I think the biggest change is a sense of permission I’ve always looked to external reassurance to steady myself. I wanted to be liked, to be loved, to be validated, to be told I was doing the right thing. When I received that reassurance I felt good. When I didn’t, I felt frantic, panicked.
Of course everyone tells you you should give the validation to yourself. I knew that. But I think I didn’t actually know how to do it. It’s like telling someone who’s insecure about their appearance, “You’re beautiful. Stop worrying.”
All my life I’ve worked hard for love. In Leslie Jamison’s new memoir, Splinters, she writes about how her mom is the only one she never needs to impress: “Her love was not a fish I did my seal tricks for. As long as she never died, I would be okay.” I know the feeling of doing tricks for a skeptical audience. Sometimes it made me vulnerable and sometimes it made me feel like I was holding a weapon behind my back, waiting for the right moment to reveal it. Like: oh, yeah, I have read that. And that and that. The feeling of knowing all of someone else’s references as well as they do. The feeling of being able to identify someone’s attachment style before they open their mouth. Being able to pull out the genuine warmth behind the performative warmth, the insecurity behind the insecurity, like yanking out a tapeworm from someone’s open mouth. Sometimes it felt gruesome and sometimes it felt joyful. It was what I knew how to do.
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Lately I’ve become sick of my seal tricks. I’d become someone who was so concerned about doing a good job that I’d forgotten how to discern what a good job really meant. If you live for others you risk becoming centerless, lost. You forget that rules are arbitrary, everything is arbitrary, adulthood is about a kind of isolating freedom that drowns you if you can’t swim in it. You have to decide what your values are and live by them. You can’t always be wavering, floating from shiny thing to shiny thing, perpetually lost. Or you can. That’s the scary thing, you can do whatever you want.
Lately I’ve realized that I’m never going to escape from who I am. I am someone who cares about seeing my friends multiple times a week and living close to the cypress trees and taking Akko on long long walks even when it rains. I want to write about women, their bodies and their lives and their thoughts. I love beauty, romance. I like logistics but I’m always 6 minutes late for dinner. My closet is always in a state of disorder and I’ll swear up and down to you that I’m not going to buy any more clothes but I’m lying. I like to ask people lots of questions and I’m shy when it comes to talking about myself. I’ve reread Lisa Taddeo’s Animal about 100 times. I’m willing to go to a great deal of trouble to get the thing I want but I’ll grumble about it. There are dog toys in my bed. I will be going to bed when I’m tired no matter who else is staying up. I have a plan for my life. I will be trying to follow the plan and everything may go wrong but I will be trying.
Funny, how long I spent feeling uneasy about all this. It’s not that I disliked myself, more like… I really wanted someone else to say, being the way you are is okay. And say it again and again. It never occurred to me that the reason I wanted it repeated was because I actually wanted to hear it from myself. When I’m the one who’s saying it, I don’t need repetition. I find myself convincing.
I could write a whole other essay about how women are socialized for abjection, socialized to please, but this weekend P and I went to LA to get matching tattoos and we talked, as we often do, about the way women consistently betray themselves to meet a standard created only to punish them. Sometimes I wonder if the heart of the female experience is striving for a perfection that you’ve known from birth you’ll never reach or keep. It feels clear to me now that to become real to ourselves we have to keeping turning away from wanting other people to condone or praise our way of life. If you don’t give yourself permission, no one will.
A little announcement
Everyone wants a close-knit friend group, but it’s becoming more and more uncommon to actually have one. I’ve written extensively on Bookbear Express about how my friends have changed my life, and I’ve noticed that the number one thing readers ask me is about friendships.
I had tons of close friends in college, but we’ve drifted apart and I don’t know how to make new ones
I moved during the pandemic, and now all the people I love most live across the country
I feel like I consistently give more than I get in my relationships
I had a big fight with my best friend, and I don’t know how to move past it, or if I even want to
If you’re in one of these situations, or friendship is just generally on your mind, consider coming to our workshop. It’s a group conversation and a chance to share what’s on your mind when it comes to finding good friendships–we want to hear your problems, your beliefs, and thoughts on how things could be better.
The workshop will be a combination of sharing as a group, going deep with one other participant, and seeing the two of us in action! Our ideal participant is curious, earnest, and open to change.
I’ll be hosting the workshop in San Francisco with Rishi, a long-time friend who is both a MIT-educated software engineer as well as a gifted leadership coach and performance artist. He describes himself as “liking to enlist people in playful disobedience.” Every time we hang out we have three-hour long conversations about friends, family, and everyone else we love. I’m always impressed by his thoughtfulness and capacity for holding space and there’s no one I'd rather be hosting this with.
If you’re interested, you can sign up here. Applications will be open until next Monday.