The Other Person in the Room

I like blogging about my opinions. I like taking my opinions out of my brain and putting them in little observational vials where I can poke and prod them, and others can poke and prod them with me.

My poly self was raised on Franklin Veaux’s thoughts about poly. I very much hope that there might, someday, be people raised, in part, on my thoughts about poly. As much as I want to be able to offer useful advice about poly (and the other things I write about), though, there is another reason I write about it that shapes how I write.

I was in a discussion about being poly and out not too long ago where I talked about one of the things I think about when I make the decision to be out about something, poly or otherwise.

When I think about coming out to people, I worry. Especially when I talk a lot about depression, about chronic pain, about my personal issues, etc., etc. I worry that people won’t want to hear about it, or will think that I’m being weak or whiny. When I talk about poly or BDSM, I worry about people thinking it’s immoral, or that I’m bragging, or that I’m doing it wrong.

In light of these insecurities, When I think about being out about something, I try to think about doing it for someone else, instead of for myself.

When I make the decision to talk about poly or kink or depression or chronic pain, I think about doing it, in part, for the other person in the room. I try to imagine that there is one person – in every conversation, every thread, every blog post, every panel – who is exactly like me. One person who is depressed or anxious or poly or kinky or chronically ill who just can’t stand to talk about it.

I think about those moments in my life when another person spoke up about being the same as me, and how relieving those moments were. Suddenly some part of me would become warmer. Where that part had felt fearful and brittle – where I had kept that part in a little house in my brain with a “Beware of dog” sign in the yard, and a reminder on the door that read “No one can know.” – something changed. Maybe that something was just that I felt a little bit more comfortable with myself and my parts. Maybe it was more than that. Either way, that warming is always a positive thing.

I try to talk about the things that I’m afraid to talk about. I try to talk about the things that I’m worried will come off as weak or whiny or shameful or difficult because maybe there is that one person, just one other person in the room who will feel a little bit warmer for my having talked. The more worried I am, the more that I hope I will find the courage to talk, because the more worried I am, the more worried that other person in the room probably is, and the more my talking may help them.

Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 10.09.01 PM

This is a big part of the reason why I try to talk about personal things, instead of just opinions. It’s a part of why I blog, and it’s a part of why I think everyone should blog. We all need company, and even if you aren’t very good at writing, and you don’t have any strong opinions about things, and you don’t have any wisdom you think is particularly useful, you are still like other people. You can still be company.

You can still be that person who is just enough like me to make me feel a little less alone, and even if I have nothing else to say, sometimes I can be that person who is just enough like you to make you feel a little less alone.

Even if all you can be is company, that is a big thing to be.

So don’t just write when you’re happy or inspired or any of the things you think people think you’re supposed to be. Write when you’re sad. Write when you’re depressed. Write when you don’t know what to do. Write when you can’t handle things anymore. Write when you’re afraid.

Write when you are unacceptable.

Write for the other unacceptable people in the room.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

Why I Blog

I enjoy blogging. I enjoy the opportunities it gives me to vent and the opportunities it gives me to have opinions. I enjoy the experience of learning to write better, and of learning to appreciate the joy of writing. I absolutely love the moments when people tell me that things I have written have impacted them in some way. Though my writerly self-esteem often fluctuates wildly, I generally like how blogging makes me feel about my writing.

I have an about page that goes over the basic reasons why I started this blog, and the things that I generally write about, but I’ve never written that much about my philosophy of blogging, and I want to. So here is that post. Or, rather, here is the first of what may be more than one post about that. The post about why I blog.

I blog because it’s cathartic, and I blog because I think I have important things to say, and I blog because I want to matter, and I blog because it keeps me on track, and I blog because I like having a record.

I blog because it keeps me on track. When I first started this blog in February of last year, I was in a really bad place. My chronic pain symptoms were about as bad as they had ever been, and at the time that meant my pain was bad most of the time and excruciating after even half an hour of sitting. I started the blog to keep myself on track. I figured that if I had a place where I was writing down how I was doing and what I was doing, I might have an easier time making progress with my depression and my chronic pain.

I was right. I think it helped a lot. Nowadays, I still think it helps, but in a more diffuse, general sense of “Helping me think through and keep in mind the challenges that I’m facing right now.”.

I blog because it’s cathartic. I think the reason that I have kept up with this blog over the last year and a half is because it serves as an outlet. I tried blogging once or twice before I started this blog, and I was never able to keep up with it. I think the difference between those attempts and this one was that this blog was specifically started to be about depression and chronic pain. When my depression or my chronic pain symptoms are particularly bad, this blog provides an outlet to vent. It provides something that I need, rather than just being something that I want myself to be doing.

Sometimes, nothing is more important than just getting out the things that I’m feeling, and sometimes this blog is the way I do that.

I blog because I think I have important things to say. I think a lot of my ideas are good ideas, and I think I am pretty good at talking about them. Well, sometimes I think that, anyway.

There was a point in my life when I started looking at textbooks more critically. I stopped saying to myself, “I just don’t get this, why can’t I get this?”, and started saying, “This makes no sense, why is this person so bad at explaining concepts?”. There are only so many times you can read a textbook and not understand anything, and then go online and find a magnificently clear explanation, before you realize that a lot of people, even people with very good ideas, have no idea how to talk about those ideas.

I think I am very good at talking about ideas, and I like to think sometimes I have decent ones, myself. So I write.

I blog because I like having a record. I like being able to look back at the things I wrote years ago and see how I’ve changed. I like being able to see what I was thinking about in the past. I like seeing the ways I was different, and the ways I’m still the same. I think history is fascinating, and I think that as much about my own history as the history of any other person, place, or thing.

One of my favorite things to do is to hear about the history of other people who travel in the same circles I do. The more I learn about people and their histories, the more amazing it seems to me that we have ended up in the same circles. The more I learn about people’s histories, the more viscerally I experience the awareness of the unfathomably chaotic structure of each of our histories that has brought us into co-incidence.

The more I think about this, the more I think of other things I could be adding. For now, I’m going to stop here, before this gets too unwieldy long.

Going Vegan

I’m going vegan.

This has been something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and for the last year or so have mostly just been thinking “Yeah, someday…” about. After having a few conversations with a couple of vegan friends of mine, recently, though, my feeling of moral discomfort over funding the things that happen in the animal products industry reached a tipping point a little over a week ago. With a little less ignorance, and suddenly significantly less ability to rationalize, I decided it was time to go for it.

I wasn’t even vegetarian before, so I more or less, as a friend put it, went “from zero to vegan” in the space of about a week.

It has been a surprisingly easy transition so far. My diet didn’t consist of a whole lot of animal products before, and the ones that it did consist of have been fairly easy to replace. The transition would’ve been much more difficult a year ago, but these days all I really had to do was find substitutes for milk, cream cheese, and turkey. So far, coconut milk, fake cream cheese, and soy curls have been sufficient for that. I will very much miss steak fajitas at Chipotle, and a few other types of going out foods, but so far this has been a pretty simple transition.

One of the things I have noticed is that I feel significantly more uncomfortable than I ever did before owning other things made of animal products. Floggers, for example (seriously, does anyone know anyone who makes decent floggers that aren’t made of leather?). Deciding to go vegan has meant I’ve more or less abandoned the rationalizations I was using to not be vegan, which has meant that the full weight of moral discomfort associated with animal products is now something I’m experiencing about a variety of things all at once.

I don’t have a whole lot of insightful things to say about the experience yet, but perhaps those will come in time. At the very least, I have managed to put yet another topic between this blog and the “have a single topic of focus” rule of blogging.

Allies Who Are Not Allies

I haven’t really done any just linking posts lately, mostly because I can write my own posts using dictation software, but I can’t put together a bunch of links without a lot of active keyboard and mouse use. This post, however, merits a link. It’s a true story acting as a perfect analogy for why intent is not magic. Go read it:

Allies Who Are Not Allies

Reminding Myself How Being Smooth Really Isn’t All That Important

Recently, I fooled around with a new friend of mine. You know what I didn’t do, either before or during? I didn’t say anything that anyone would think of as “smooth”.

What I did say, after indulging in some nervousness about the fact that I had no idea how to proposition someone in a way that any reasonable person might describe as “smooth”, was something along the lines of this:

“So, for the record, I’m not actually very good at telling when people want me to make moves on them. But I would if you wanted me to, and I wouldn’t if you didn’t.”

Awkward, right? And yet, I would have to say things worked out in a way I thoroughly enjoyed.

Today, I have been thinking, yet again, about why I worry about not being things that I have never needed to be (e.g. “smooth”) in order to have awesome sexual experiences with people.

I’ve decided it might be useful for me (and hopefully for others) to review just how often I have been incredibly un-smooth and have ended up kissing people anyway. There are certain common threads in the language I tend to use to ask people if they are interested in kissing or having sex, and one of those common threads is that the language is never, ever “smooth”. It is generally varying degrees of awkward. Yet, my tragic lack of suave-ness has not, as one might think, and as I sometimes still worry about for reasons passing understanding, crippled my sex life. So, for your and my perusal, here is my awkwardness, and some conversations from some of the times it has not mattered in the slightest:

“Question for you.”


“Would it be okay if I kissed you?”

“Yeah, definitely.”

“I know you talked about just having recently gotten out of a serious relationship, and not really looking for anything new right now. I just… I keep thinking about kissing you, and you totally don’t have to do anything with that, but if you were interested in it, I would.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Does that… um…”

“I think I would like that.”

“So, I’m not sure if you’re asking me something, or just joking around, but, for the record, if you are asking me something, then pending further conversation about preferences and boundaries and stuff, I’m probably interested.”

“Let me see if my room is occupied right now.”

“So, I don’t know what your particular boundaries are or what you’re comfortable with, but, if you were interested, I think I would be comfortable having sex.”

“I am interested, but I would have to make sure Boyfriend was okay with it.”

“Okay, well, let me know when you get a chance to ask him.”

“Oh, I’ll just text him.”

“I have a question.”


“Um, no pressure, I’m definitely up for watching a movie, but, if you were interested, I think I would really like to… be sexual… with you*.”

“Oh. Yeah, okay. Let me just shower first.”

(Context: this is in a group situation where a lot of spontaneous making out is happening) “Just for the record, [Person I Do Not Have Previously Established Consent for Make-Outs With], I’m not not kissing you because I don’t want to. I just don’t want to violate your boundaries if you’re not interested.”

*she kisses me*

What you should take from this, Dear Reader, and what I’m trying to remember to take from it, myself, is that none of these people gave a flying fuck that I didn’t Just Make a Move or have some Incredibly Smooth (TM) way of propositioning them for kisses or sex. I have absolutely also had conversations where I asked if people were interested in making out or having sex and they said no, but I have never had one of those conversations and felt like the fact that I asked in an awkward-feeling way (which is almost always the case) was the thing that made them say no. Generally, my impression has been that people said yes or no based on (shocking though it may seem) whether or not they were already interested.

The take-away from this is that, while there may be people who want to be propositioned in a particular way or else they aren’t interested (many people, including my subconscious, sometimes, seem to think this is true, anyway), there are plenty of people in the world who really don’t give a fuck, and the time you spend worrying about being smooth is, if they are interested in you, time you could probably be spending in bed with them.

So stop worrying so much, Me and Also Probably Other People.

* Most Awkward Phrasing Award? I cringe when I look at this.

Note: An awesome commenter just added their own awkward proposition anecdote in the comments. If anyone else felt like contributing to the list, I would love to have a collection of awkward proposition stories in the comments.

Thoughts on the Possible Application of Ideas on Pain Perception to Other Senses and Experiences

Mild trigger warning: some discussion of eating disorders.

One of the main things I have learned in reading about modern pain research is that pain relates to your brain’s opinion on what is happening to your body and whether or not you should be doing anything about it. You can have a horribly bad injury and feel no pain if your brain doesn’t think that that pain would help you in some way, and you can feel an incredible amount of pain without any injury if your brain thinks that that pain is protecting you in some way.

My favorite story about this comes from a book called “Painful Yarns” by Lorimer Moseley (a wonderful book that I highly recommend that relates a number of stories clinicians and patients can use as examples of or metaphors for how pain works). It’s a true story about a man who came into the emergency room with a hammer through his neck, experiencing no apparent pain, but who then, in the process of joking around about the hammer through his neck, banged his knee on a table, and started yelling about the pain in his knee.

There is a certain sense in which I have found that it sometimes makes sense to think of pain like a hallucination. Pain can have little or nothing in common with the volume of danger signals you may be receiving from your tissues. Phantom limb pain, for example, is obviously not the result of physical tissue injury. It is, in a way, a hallucination.

JT Eberhard has written before about getting visual hallucinations as a result of having an eating disorder. It strikes me that, if I assume similar types of preprocessing happen with the physical perception of pain and the visual perception of the world, this type of hallucination makes a lot of sense from a “Your brain is trying to protect you” perspective. Cultural contexts and conditioning can have a significant impact on pain, and I see no reason to suppose they might not have a parallel impact on things like visual hallucination. If your brain has learned to perceive any weight gain as a massive threat to your well-being, then visual hallucinations that exaggerate weight and weight gain might be, from the perspective of your brain, a sensible protective mechanism against any chance of any actual weight gain.

Just to be clear: I’m not saying the hallucinations would be in any way actually good. I am saying that your brain might employ them as a protective mechanism. Very big difference. I assume very similar things about my chronic pain: I assume that my brain “thinks” that creating this pain is protecting me in some way, even if the reality is that it makes my life unambiguously worse and does not actually provide any useful protection from anything.

One of the things that seems to help when I’m dealing with back pain is to concentrate on the fact that I know it isn’t providing me any useful information, and doesn’t reflect any actual threat to my tissues. Doing this regularly over an extended period of time has seemed, in the past, to have an ameliorating effect. I largely attribute the couple of months were I was having little-to-no back pain to a long period of doing that regularly. Pain is a product of the brain, and while generally your brain does its own thing, there are times when, if you are deliberate and patient, you can have some success talking it into or out of things.

This is all a long way of saying that I have started thinking about more and more of my experiences through the lens of what my brain’s opinion might be.

Yesterday, I was feeling a little insecure, and worrying about things it didn’t really make sense to worry about. Over the last month or so, one of the things that I have found myself being occasionally insecure about is not getting timely responses to texts. If I’m exchanging texts, and I say something and then don’t get a response for a while, I start to worry that I have, without realizing it, said something that offended someone. The fear doesn’t make a lot of sense, particularly in light of the fact that I, myself, am not always particularly good at responding to texts in a timely manner. In thinking about how I might stop being anxious about this, an idea occurred to me: could I treat this anxiety in a way that parallels the way I sometimes treat my pain? If my anxiety about texting is constructed out of a perceived threat to my well-being, could the same type of self-talk have a similar ameliorating effect on it?

I have come to believe more and more, lately, that all of the ways I perceive the world undergo so much extra-conscious preprocessing that it makes no sense to think of any of them as even remotely resembling a direct, raw feed of incoming data. I have come to think of them more and more as powerfully subject to context and to my brain’s opinion on what is going on around me. I am beginning to wonder, more and more often, how many aspects of my perception of the world might, correspondingly, be subject to the same types of influence that my pain seems (at least occasionally) to be.

Food for thought. I intend to try thinking about my insecurities from this angle more often, to see if it helps. I think it might end up being a very useful perspective to take.

Pretty Much My Life

So, yesterday I’m putting away clean dishes in my kitchen, and I realize I have gotten tired of all of the music I have been listening to recently, and I try to think of some music to put on while putting things away.

It occurs to me that One Direction is probably popular for a reason: because they are actually catchy, and I decide to rock out to them in my kitchen while putting dishes away because I am an adult and I can do what I want.

What Makes You Beautiful is the second song on their Top Tracks on Rhapsody, and I find myself being defiantly rhythmic (in-your-face, universe that looks sideways at people who have grown-up jobs rocking out to ridiculous boy bands in their kitchen!) while doing my best not to feel uncomfortable rocking out to a song with culturally problematic implications.

Fast-forward to today, I find myself once again considering those culturally problematic implications. I wonder if maybe imagining the line as, “Girl, you know you’re beautiful – that’s what makes you beautiful.” would be less problematic.

Then I realize that, really, if I were expressing my own personal opinions, the line would be something like, “Girl, you use the word vivacious in casual conversation”, which, syllable-wise, it’s just not going to work.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

The ‘You You You’ Generation

Adults these days, am I right?

I would start out this post by talking about how adults used to be responsible. How, back in the good old days, adults were mature and intelligent and believed in a day’s work for a day’s pay and other tired clichés.

But let’s be real: just because today’s adults are shit doesn’t mean the generations before them were any better. So why don’t we just sidestep all that “good old days” bullshit and get to it.

They call us “The ‘Me’ Generation”, so I guess it’s only appropriate that I have started to think of them as “The ‘You’ Generation”. They are the generation of “This is YOUR fault, and not mine.”. They are the generation of, “I am going to blame YOU for failings that any reasonable party would attribute to ME.”. They are the generation of deflected responsibility.

And they are, apparently, the generation that thinks they have the moral authority to lecture us on the idea of personal responsibility when they, themselves have failed at it with such astonishing reliability that it has simply become the expectation.

Let’s review:

Today’s adults are the generation that immolated the housing market and then said kids these days aren’t buying houses because they aren’t growing into proper adults. This is the generation that talks about how when they were young they paid for college with summer jobs, while today they are raising the cost of a college education astronomically (was economics not a thing when you were growing up, guys, or have you just forgotten it all?). This is the generation that wants their children to take responsibility, and yet can’t manage to take responsibility for paying, or even giving any form of legitimate training to students they intern at their companies.

This is the generation that is scandalized by “hookup culture” as though today’s students are actually hooking up any more than they did when they were students (we aren’t, but fact-checking has never been your strong suit, guys, so we’ll try not to take your investigative inadequacies personally). This is the generation that talks about our generation’s lack of empathy and personal responsibility with straight faces while the companies they run bold-facedly lie about budgets for their employees, and dodge their responsibility to provide benefits.

This is the generation that decimated the economy they grew up with just in time for us to inherit it. This is the generation that made the banks take personal responsibility by giving them more money. This is the generation that sent their children to die in a war that they justified with bald-faced lies, and that announced that the mission had been accomplished thousands of casualties before the last soldier was evacuated. This is the generation that then refused to provide care to the wounded veterans that they sent to that war.

This is the generation of organizations like Enron, Blackwater, and Freddie Mac. This is the generation of legislation like No Child Left Behind and the Patriot Act. This is the generation of the Iraq war, the mishandling of Katrina, the subprime mortgage crisis, and everything that followed.

This generation deigns, so kindly, to lecture their children on taking responsibility.

So, to all of the adults who are dismayed at the kids these days and feel compelled to compose irresponsible, fact-blind, mind-bogglingly ignorant rants about us, here’s what I think of your “concern”:

I think you have had more than half a century to learn what “personal responsibility” means, and you have failed so magnificently it is beyond words. I think the fact that even one of you, without any sense of irony or shame, has managed to delude themselves into thinking that your generation can speak with authority on how our generation should be doing personal responsibility is absurd beyond measure. I think, on the balance of things, that your generation could stand to sit the fuck down, shut the fuck up, and take a lesson.

Because the people in our generation who are doing well? They aren’t doing it thanks to your help and advice, they are doing it in spite of your bullshit.

Disclaimer: I don’t actually think that my parents’ generation is unique in having generally mishandled the country and the world in astonishing ways – I think that’s pretty much the way humans have done it since the dawn of time. I don’t actually think any of the events I mention are particularly generalizable to their generation as a whole. I know quite a lot of wonderful, inspiring people in my parents’ generation. I wrote the above not because I think their generation is full of terrible people, but because I think the people who write articles that make generalizations about whole generations – like those that I both criticize and engage in in the above post – are ridiculous. There have been so many, lately, that have been written about my generation (or, really, today’s college kids, a group in which I, as of recently, no longer, alas, qualify as a member), I thought I would take a stab at showing how easy it is to turn those generalizations around on the people making them.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other