Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I Am Not A Shepherd And These Are Not My Sheep

The longer you work in festival or convention safety, the more likely it is you'll run into the perception that the rest of the people, the ones not on your team, are somehow the 'sheep', who need to be protected.  They are, as an aggregate, dumb and thoughtless and unable to make good decisions for themselves.  I've heard them called 'gomers' and any number of other names, all of which imply that we, the safety staff, are the only thing standing between them and their messy, embarrassing demise.

This is, frankly, bullshit.

The first team I worked on held this perception.  Perhaps it was a cynicism, or an egotism, but either way I'm faintly embarrassed now at the way I nodded, smugly, when it was explained to me that "We protect the people.  Mostly from themselves."  It was easy for me, because I only ever saw the people having trouble, to view those others as a collection of bad decisions and personal frailties waiting to happen.  It was easy to view myself as a voice of calm reason and sanity to a childlike population.  I bought into that particular line of patriarchy without even thinking about it.

As I began to consider my own warrior's path, away from my earliest influences, I evaluated my relationship with those around me.  I considered how we would interact, what role I would play in their lives, and they in mine.  It started to chafe at me, this perception of a mindless mass of helpless sheep.  These are people, I thought, my equals and my peers.  Together we form community, and together we create, sustain, and protect that community.

Over the last two years, as I've been training to lead my own safety services team, I've had a lot of time to think about how I wanted to lead and guide that team.  What would we do?  Would we be physical warriors, standing up bodily in the face of harm?  Would we be spiritual warriors, focused on magical defenses and energy work?  How would we protect the people?

The more I thought about my own history, and what I saw in it, the more I realised that I don't protect these people.  Not in the traditional way.  I protect this community, and that's something entirely different.

There is a part of it that is the taking up of arms, of walking into battle in the very real sense.  That is a minuscule part of this commitment, but many groups treat it as the default expectation, a physical defense against a clear threat.  They walk with swords and arrogance, looking for obvious battles, but when you begin by looking for a fight, you almost never find anything else.

No, the real work is elsewhere.  To speak up with integrity in defense of those who do not feel empowered to speak.  To model the actions you want to see in others.  To choose empathy and compassion in the face of anger and confusion.  To walk out among your community, opening doors and creating bridges, wherever you can.  To be a resource for clarity and understanding.  To build trust.

I consider what may happen, and how best to respond.  I marshal resources and maintain, in my head, a list of people who can be depended upon to be calm and patient when it is needed, and fierce and passionate when it is needed, and who have the wisdom to know which is which.

The people of my community will usually, if given good information and the time to think clearly, make reasoned, intelligent decisions.  When there is not time to think clearly, I have to call upon the trust that I have built rather than the authority I claim, to ask them to do something on my word because important things are at stake and I cannot stop to explain.

I worry, but with a plan.  What is the worst that might happen, I ask myself, and then what will I do?

Through it all, I remember that I don't stand between these sheep and the wolves.  I stand among these people.  I am of them, and we are united in the future of this community.  I am often asked why I'm so adamant about the difference between "I am on the safety team" and "I am on the security team."  The difference is that the safety team is always thinking about the health and the safety of the community.  They understand that flexibility and understanding are critical to the dynamic situations affecting the tribe.  The security team simply enforces the rules, by force if necessary.  There are too many instances of 'force' in that for me to be comfortable with it.

A shepherd protects and tends the flock, but he also culls it for his own sustenance.  A sheepdog will ward against danger, but if it becomes hungry enough it will turn into a wolf in the blink of an eye.

A warrior walks among the people, of the people, and stands united with them for the good of all.

That is what I want to do.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Shifting Anxiety into Clarity

Today I turned off a set of Red Cross notifications.

When I got my new phone, I set up my Tornado Alert Warnings to include the Kansas City and Lawrence areas, where I used to live and still have many friends.  A few weeks into tornado season, I am struck by two things.

First, that I used to spend a substantial part of every spring fairly blithely living under the reminder of constant potential doom from the sky.  Sirens once or twice a week wasn't that unusual.  I formed the habit of making a mental note, in every building I regularly occupied, of the lowest and most sheltered ground.  Each year I checked and repacked the small bag containing a change of clothes, some emergency cash, a flashlight and other necessities, without really acknowledging it as a tacit admission that I might face an actual tornado or have the roof blown off my apartment building by a microburst and need to grab the cat and run for shelter.  In all that time, I never saw a tornado though the city I was in was hit more than once.  I became blase about the danger because I was both used to it and personally untouched by it.

Second, that at some point in my life I created this fantastic and beautiful network of people, reaching across the country and around the world, and as a result my world has become very small.  Today alone I am thinking of a shooting, tornado warnings, two children in my community facing illness, people facing the loss of loved ones, friends who are out of work, fearful for their futures, or worried about their own health.

Facebook keeps me in touch and aware, and e-mail, text, and messaging let me maintain a network of love and support.  I have found that network a lifeline in my own daily experience, and I'm grateful for the ease with which an "I love you and you're in my thoughts," can fly hundreds of miles in a second.

But at some point, I have to unplug and hope I will hear what I need to hear as it happens.  I turned off my notifications for Douglas County and Kansas City, not because I do not love the people who still live there, but because I cannot share their ever-present awareness of dangers that will almost certainly never come to pass.  There is nothing I can do, except light my candles and hold fire and faith.

I was an Army Brat.  I spent my childhood forming fast friendships with a changing population of peers, and then walking away with the knowledge that I might never see those best friends again.  I've been running my adulthood that way, but now I keep the friends as an ever-expanding network of deep emotional connections.

But I'm having to refine and reframe the way I manage that network, all the time.  A few years ago, it was evaluating my relationships and choosing to focus on the ones that supported and empowered me.  More recently, I've been looking at a lot of my interactions and choosing to focus on those where I had a chance to change someone's mind or make someone consider a different viewpoint.  Today, I'm choosing to step out of the reactionary mode, trying to give up that constant awareness of where my love and support will be needed next, and shift to simply giving it where it's asked.

To my gods I say, I am not abandoning my love and support for those who are important to me.  I am not changing how I feel, or how deeply I wish for their happiness and success.  I am simply pulling back my constant threat awareness and trading worry and anxiety in for the calm faith in love and community.

I love you all.

Friday, March 21, 2014

I Am Apparently My Own Bloodless Coup?

Over the last several days, I've been slowly wrestling with the possibility that the anemia is forever.  That it's not a matter of making sure I get enough of the right kind of iron, that this is not a thing I can eat my way out of.  That something is wrong with me beyond my ability to maintain my own health myself.

Two weeks ago, I had what I thought was the last hematologist appointment for half a year.  Everything looked good, she said, hemoglobin and hematocrit numbers holding steady.  My color is back, my energy is up.  My hair and nails have been growing much stronger and thicker, my skin is better, and I just, overall, feel healthy.

Then, Monday morning, I got a call from the hematologist's office.  My serum iron is in the 30's (normal is 50+) and my percent saturation is 9% (normal is 12).  Four more infusions.  Four more lost days of work.  Four more trips to the chemo lab to sleep away three hours in a Benadryl haze.  Four more anxious moments as I watch the first injection of the iron solution, knowing that if I have a reaction this door may be closed to me forever.  Four more weeks of my body pulling energy away from cognition and motivation, to turn the glut of iron into healthy blood.

What the numbers mean, by the way, is that I'm walking a tightrope of deficiency.  I have enough oxygen in my blood *now*, but one false step and I don't have the reserves to cover it.  One bad nosebleed.  One nasty cut while slicing vegetables, and I can't replace what will wash down the drain.  And as the cells die, I'm at the very edge of being able to replace them.

Through it all, the anxiety.  Is this just what my life is now?  Semi-annual injections of something the entire rest of the world can get from a spinach salad or a hamburger?  Watching for the pica, the shortness of breath, the cracked nails and the diminished energy, all the little ways my body tells me it's failing?  Second-guessing every groggy morning and every brief moment of chill?  Looking, every time I miss it, for a new metric that would have warned me?  Accepting, after each episode, that that wasn't the right way to track it.  Even a home iron test wouldn't have found this; it tests hemoglobin and hematocrit, which were fine.

Adding 'hematocrit' to my spell checker, because it seems I may need to be using it a lot.  It suggests 'crematorium' instead.  No, thank you, spell check.

The scariest thing a doctor can say to you is "I don't know why this is happening to you, and I don't know where else to look."  I have no symptoms of deeper problems, no signs of cancer or internal bleeding or failing bone marrow or my liver gone rogue, mad with the power to destroy blood cells.  That would be reassuring, except...I have no symptoms of anemia either, and I seem to have that.

Feeling simultaneously betrayed by my body, which is refusing to conform to the agreement we made in which I will give it good food and exercise and it will function as I need it to -- and compassionate towards it, because I can feel myself *trying* to compensate, to keep up, to do what is needed with what I have.  It really doesn't help that within five minutes of the confirmation phone call, I started feeling cold and dizzy and weak.  No, I told my feet, I can feel you just fine, dammit.  This is psychosomatic and you KNOW IT so stop it!

The thing is, anemia doesn't kill you, because it's resolvable and treatable.  It's not a thing people really die from, because iron is easy to replace, until it's not.  Once you have a reaction to the iron treatments, your options become very limited.  I've been in the lab, once, when someone started to have a reaction.  He said, "It's swelling.  It doesn't usually swell like this.  Is something wrong?"  I drifted into the Benadryl haze about that time; my last conscious thought was a panicked glance at my own injection site.  When I woke, he was gone.  I don't know where he went, or what his options are now.  I asked, once, what if I can't have infusions any more?  The nurse looked away and said, "Don't worry about that right now.  Just focus on getting better."

The part of my brain I call Traitor Brain is having a field day.

"You're broken," she says.  "You have bad blood.  There are secret things wrong with you, things you should have seen, but now they're going to kill you and you're missing the significance of the only warning you're being given.  This is your fault, for all those years when you couldn't get a job that gave you insurance.  You'd already know what was wrong, but you were too busy being a fuckup to have the stability to find out."

She also says, "Get over yourself.  This isn't a real illness.  This isn't a thing.  You know people with real things.  They have real, bona fide illnesses and you're, what, a little chilly?  Put on a fucking sweater and tough it up.  Look around that fucking chemo lab and then say you're afraid with a straight face, that you're dealing with anything even close to what those people are facing.  You should be ashamed of this, it's stupid narcissistic weakness."

I know that Traitor Brain is a bitch and she wants me to fail.  That's why I named her that.  I've had her on the run pretty well the last year or so, and she's trying to make me pay for it.  I repeat her words here, because when I say them out loud I can hear how full of shit she is, but when she's hiding in my head, those insidious whispers are self-reinforcing.

There's another voice, too.  It says, "Um, what if there's nothing wrong with you?  What if this is just...how you are?  How your body works?"  I have started finding things on web searches that say that with steady hemoglobin levels, lots of women function fine with a serum iron in the 40s if they're not having any symptoms.  That's not far from where I am.  It's possible, remotely, that I am at a confluence of 'does not absorb iron well' and 'turns serum iron into hemoglobin VERY FAST' so that what looks like cruising disaster is actually my normal state of being, and my crises were triggered by something as simple as "eating a heavily vegetarian diet without noticing."  This is where the lack of insurance comes in.  I have hemoglobin levels from 10 years ago, and they were low, but I've never really had regular serum iron tests when I was healthy.  I have no baseline, just the last several years of extremely problematic hemoglobin levels.  And in the absence of that baseline, the doctor treats what she sees, and what she sees is blood on the dangerous edge.  I'll talk to her about the possibility of it, and she's been very receptive, but "I think this may be an OK place for me to be as long as I'm careful" is going to be a hard sell.

I've wrestled with talking to the people in my life about all this, this week, but there are so many people who are important to me, that I knew I'd have to have this conversation too many times, and I'd forget things, or get angry when the same suggestion came from five people who didn't know I'd already addressed and considered it.

The long and the short of it is that while I've always considered my depression a chronic condition, it was something that I didn't really need medical intervention to manage.  It's been something that just *knowing* about seemed to help.  But this is the first time I have fully had to face the idea of the anemia as a chronic condition, one I must maintain with medical treatment, instead of an occasional one.  I can no longer shrug it off as "I should eat more steaks!" and ignore the possibility that there is something to be concerned about.  That's been really hard for me, this week.

And let me say one last thing:  every hemogoblin joke, every Magneto reference, Every goofy picture of iron toys, every offer to staple things to me because "every little bit helps, right?" is a blessing.  Making light of this is helping me, tremendously, navigate a very difficult and scary course.  My twisted, disturbing, irreverent and loving friends continue to remind me that I have chosen to fill my life with the right people.

I love you all.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Of Course I'm Not Picketing Fred Phelps' Funeral, Whenever It Happens

For the last umpty-some years, when people have found out that Kansas is one of the places I've called home, they all want to know what I think about Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church.

So here it is, in all its glory.

He claims Christianity, but neither exemplifies nor accurately represents it to me.  The Christians I know personally are people of thoughtful compassion, kindness, empathy, and love.

He may claim Kansas as a home, but he also doesn't represent Kansans to me.  Aside from a few frightened and misguided souls, the Kansans that I know are practical, thoughtful, kind and honest people with a sincerely broken political culture and no real idea how to fix it.

He has, for much of my adult life, been a screaming voice of hate and anger.  In recent years his church has become a caricature of itself, nothing more than a toothless tiger against which we take the opportunity to display our own defiance.  As a unifying enemy, the Westboro Baptist Church has done more to unite pro-equality voices than any other single person or group, because they've consistently placed pro-military and pro-gay rights voices on the same side of a picket line, where they could find out exactly how much their love of freedom, peace, and courage overlapped.  The Westboro Baptist Church has spent most of its history making its enemies into each other's allies.

Now, word comes that Fred Phelps, hated patriarch of the hated church, may be dying in hospice, excommunicated and scorned by the house his hate built.  I know a lot of people smugly rejoicing in that knowledge.  I'm not one of them.

Why not?  A couple reasons.  The first is easy: rejoicing at other people's suffering and misfortune isn't how I was raised.  Feeling glad that people 'get what they deserve' always seems to end in *you* getting what *you* deserve, and I'll be the first to admit that on a strict judgment of good acts to bad in my life, I've probably gotten off more easily than was strictly fair.  I'm grateful for that fact.  If that means some others get off more easily than is strictly fair, then I'm OK with that too.

The second is theological.  As a religious pluralist, I accept the validity of a variety of religious paths, including a variety of potential afterlife experiences.  The one thing that remains constant is that you get what you believe is coming to you, but not on your own terms.

At the end of your life, I think you face whatever gods you called yours, to determine the next phase of your experience.  And I believe you're given an understanding, at the end of life, of the near and far reaching effects of how you lived.  How many lives you touched.  How much of your world you changed.  The good you did.  The harm you caused.  And rather than live to avoid hell or a bad reincarnation your next time on the wheel, I think the best choices you can make come from a place of "If you had to account for this to someone without lying to yourself about it, how would you feel?"

As to atheism, by the way, I'm of two minds.  Either you cease to be, just as you always thought you would, or you're given the empirical evidence you always said would change your mind, and what happens next depends on how you change or don't change your perspective.  Same with agnosticism; the real test is whether you were sincerely questioning and evaluating in a search for understanding, not whether you ever found the 'right' answer.

In any case, I think that at the end of your life, you get Answers from the universe and you may well be asked for them.  And I don't envy Fred Phelps, as his days wind down, the conversation I expect he'll be having with his god.  I don't envy him that moment of perfect understanding.  I look at the possibility that he'll fully grasp the mark his life has made, the corrosion his hate has spread, the children whose spirits he destroyed, and I can only find compassion for what he's about to experience.

By all accounts, Fred Phelps is an abused child who grew up to be an abuser, locked into the cycle of abuse as victim and perpetuator, given power by religion and money and pure visceral meanness to spread his childhood damage beyond the usual reach.  I'm glad on some level that his tormented days will end, and hope that after understanding what he's done, and facing all his harm, he can find some of the peace and forgiveness that he's denied for so long lie at the core of the Christian faith.

Because if he's judged as he has judged, what waits for him is far beyond any hell I can imagine.  And whether it would be fair for him to find that hell or not, I fall back, like Marcus Cole, upon my faith in the general unfairness of the Universe.

Friday, March 7, 2014

I Think The Devil Can Speak For Himself

Right now, several states are considering or have recently considered laws that allow companies or government entities to refuse service on the basis of sexual preference.  For many, this is a clear return to the days of Jim Crow policies and 'Men Only' facilities, which divided our access to services and advantages based on race and gender.  It is a battle many people were pretty certain we'd already fought and won (at least from a legal perspective).

This is a complex issue for me.  The debate covers the philosophical, the social, and the practical, and those opinions are in conflict.

On a purely philosophical level, I support icky speech.  This means that I support the right of bigots to be bigots, the right of people to make hateful comments as long as they don't incite violence against others (the "gays are going to hell" vs. "Let's send some gays to hell" differentiation), and even the right of a business to decide whom it will and won't serve -- though I think anyone who wants to do so should have to post, on its door, a list of its bigotries so that I don't accidentally support someone operating from a place of hate.  I believe that if people were required to own their bigotry, they'd fast find out it's not a very good business decision.  I'm a firm believer in the idea that hate cannot long survive the sunshine.  I'm also a firm believer in limiting the power of government to make decisions for businesses.  I support environmental controls, minimum wage, employee protections, but I find myself balking at "You have to serve people regardless of your own philosophical position."  If you don't want to make a cake for a gay wedding, I think that the hammer of government is too blunt a tool to make you; the scalpel of shame is far more effective, though slower.

However, when I consider it from a social level, I have to admit that I don't want the icky speech out there.  The idea of people walking down a street filled with signs reminding them they're unwanted, or having to explain to a child "We can't have a pizza party for your birthday because they won't serve Daddy" is horrible to me.  I have no legal justification for not wanting it, because "The law should protect you from hurt feelings and feeling excluded," is outside my acceptable scope of governmental operation.  But I don't want to live in a society that deliberately agrees it's OK to make chunks of the population feel less-than.  I don't want to be Those People, and I understand that it's very powerful and tempting to want to use the law to do that.

Ultimately it has to come down to the practical.  The reality is that we don't have equal and consistent access to resources.  'Separate but equal' does not work unless both sides are really 'equal' and that's not possible in our current culture.  It's a Catch-22 in that if we *did* have the access to truly equal resources and opportunities that 'separate but equal' assumes, we'd have had to get it by destroying the attitudes and structures that prevent it from existing, so there'd likely be no interest in the 'separate' part.

I'm watching a lot of people discuss this, and it's hard for me because I agree with positions that demand conflicting policies.

Philosophically speaking, a pharmacist shouldn't have to be forced to provide birth control if he believes it's harmful because there should be a pharmacist who will at a nearby store, and people should be able to vote with their dollars.  Practically speaking, there are large chunks of the country where one person's choice in that matter has disproportionate power to reduce the choices and access of others.  Philosophically speaking, your gas station shouldn't be forced to sell gas or bottled water to people you don't want to serve, and if people don't want to shop at a bigoted gas station there should be one nearby where everyone is welcome.  Practically speaking, if it's the only gas station on a 100-mile stretch of I-10 through Arizona, that choice can be a matter of life and death.

Philosophically speaking, a state should be able to pass a law protecting the right to serve who you choose.  Practically, several of those laws (especially in Kansas) interfered with existing federal law, including election law, and could not possibly stand a court challenge.  They were used to smoke out moderate conservatives and divert the equality movement's attention and energy from marriage equality, which has taken on a juggernaut quality in recent months.  Though the laws are indicative of attitudes, it's unlikely that they'll become real, implemented legislation.  They're the flaily hand-waving of people desperate to retain control.

But here's the thing, and the reason I'm not participating in a lot of these conversations:  it's all well and good for me to debate the role of government and the right of people to be assholes, and I'll admit I've let myself get pulled into the conversation a few times.  But when I talk about it, for me it is abstract.  My daily life is not affected by any of these laws, so it's a matter of pure theory for me.

I can't have the philosophical conversation without acknowledging that it's personal for a large chunk of the American population.  We must have the conversation, sooner or later, about how much we want government to force us to play nice with one another.  But, as Melissa McEwan points out, we should never forget that we're discussing the realities of people's lives, the practicalities of their daily experience, even if it's just theoretical for us.

What is for me a thought exercise in access, legislative reach, and the balance of social condemnation vs. legislative control, is for someone else the very real experience of "I wonder who I've been giving money to, who would rather I wasn't but couldn't refuse it."  It's the experience of "The grocery store closest to my house has better prices than the one across town, but I wonder if the very Christian owner would take the opportunity to refuse me," of being told, in small and large ways, that your life is fair game for the judgment and approval of others, and that judgment and approval has the power to completely change the way you live.

And if I can't end the hate that feeds that experience in my lifetime, the least I can do is not trivialize it with Devil's Advocacy.  Because, well, that's not actually a Devil that needs many advocates in the modern world; he's got more than enough already.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

One-tenth of Love is Still Love

Allen Ginsberg saw the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness.

I'm watching some of the best of mine destroyed by their own empathy.

Brilliant, passionate, dedicated people surround me, people committed to causes like equality and social justice.  They have jobs, hobbies, and interests that give them opportunities to make the world a better place, and knowing them makes me a better person.  They challenge me to follow where they lead, to question my assumptions, to do my own work in the world.  The world shows me fearless warriors of justice, every day, calling me to stand with them.

Lately, I've been watching them get eaten alive by the world they're trying to save.

Outrage fatigue is real.  There is so much out there, so many things to leave you speechless with grief, and push you shouting into rage, that at some point your fury turns to despair.  You begin with the belief that you will change the world, sure the love that burns so passionately inside you will catch like wildfire and carry away the old structures, the ones that keep some people bound more tightly than others.  Most people begin from a single point of activism (gender/gender identity, race, religion, sexuality, ability, the list is as endless as the ways of oppression).  Many embrace as a guiding star the idea that if we are not all free and equal, then none of us is free and equal, and from there it is a short but difficult step to intersectional activism.

It is at that moment, when you turn to the world with an open mind, to contemplate all the possible faces freedom might take, that you make a horrible discovery.

The world is a terrible, terrible place.  There are people in it so consumed by hatred and greed that they can't even see someone you love as a person.  There are people being beaten, starved, executed, bullied, and abused in ways you could never imagine, all in the name of hate.  Twisted moralities destroy families and communities, attack children and target the weak, in the name of loving gods or simple societal stability.

There is just so much to do.  Injustice grinds, all day every day, against anyone who resists it.  You could give your whole life to the fight, and while you might make a difference there will always be more hate, more evil, more pain.  It's brutal.

You come, at some point, to the realisation that the darkness of the hating world is larger than any light you might kindle.  You remember your fire, and you know that it can never possibly be bright enough, but you feed it anyway, you feed it your words and your wisdom and your free time and your friendships and your family and your money.  When you get tired, when you start to question whether or not to keep going, you think, "I have a roof over my head and a stomach full of food, and no one has ever tried to kill me for loving who I love or wanting equal rights or wanting to be free.  People are still being beaten in the streets; how can I sit in my comfortable life and say I've done enough?"  So you take back up your sword and shield, your blog or  your protest sign or your Twitter account or your megaphone, and you reach down to feed whatever you have left to the battle you're fighting.

One day you look at your fire, and it's not the one you lit.  It's not the passionate flame of a loving heart, because it changed, when you fed it your joy, when you fed it your optimism, when you fed it happiness and good cheer and lazy Sundays and just sitting in the garden with the sun on your face.  It's an angry burning now, and it will consume you whole if you let it.

It is possible to pour out so much of the love inside you that you have none left for yourself.  I never would have believed it, when I started down the path of love, but it's true.  I have seen people so moved, their love so transformed by outrage, that I could not tell it apart from the hate they fought with it.

It's sobering to stand face to face with hate and find it a mirror to your own despairing rage.

We who fight for love must learn to tithe, if we can.  Many faiths have some practice by which you give of your assets, be it time or money or goods, in an established amount to support the common good.  They do not ask for everything you have, only for a tenth part, and allow you the rest to support yourself and your family, to expand and grow, to find joy and beauty without feeling it's at the expense of what you believe in.  A tithe is, most of all, a sustainable practice that will allow you to structure the balance between life and dedication.

Compassion is the cornerstone of an activist's faith; empathy is the heart of our shared religion.  It is past time to embrace the notion of tithing to that faith, not being martyrs to it, because the fight we face is a long and brutal one, one that will outlast all our lives.  What we can build with a sustained and sustainable commitment will stand far longer than what we can create by throwing ourselves wholesale into burnout.

I love you all.

Friday, February 14, 2014

I Am Capable of Procuring My Own Freshly Dismembered Plant Genitalia

I love cut flowers.  I love them a lot, probably to an unreasonable extent.  There's just something bright and cheery about them, a little bit of outside come in to beautify the day.  If I could, I'd have cut flowers in every room of my house, every day, all the time; they're one of the few things that never loses its 'special' quality.  It's possible I've played the Smithereens' "Cut Flowers" a few (thousand) times.

As a young woman, I absorbed the cultural narrative that cut flowers were a thing boys gave you.  If you didn't have a boy, you didn't get any flowers.  Sure, sometimes your dad sent them to you, and if you were in Texas for Homecoming your best friend got you a giant mum, but the 'flowers come from boys' meme was firmly entrenched in my head.

I was not a girl the boys pursued, and my luck ran to not-particularly-romantic gentlemen.  "Happy Valentine's Day, I got you a tool set!" was always conflicting for me, because I *liked* the tool set, and I *needed* new tools, so it was a wonderful gift and I loved it, but I sure would have liked some flowers, and I had said so, but I still usually got told "Oh, you know, you're so fierce and strong and practical I thought you wouldn't go in for silly romantic stuff!"  In between practical non-romantic boyfriends, I've been single for a lot of my adult life, so receiving flowers is still a rarity for me, something I find special every time.

Years ago, I was lamenting my perennial flowerlessness to an older friend, and she said, "Just buy your own flowers."  When I protested that doing that seemed like giving up, like settling for what I could get, she said, "No.  It's not giving up at all.  It's independence.  Flowers are easy.  You walk into the store and you buy some, and then you have flowers.  No meaning, no hidden statements about your worth as a person, just flowers."

The first time I gave myself flowers, I stood sort of furtively in the grocery store line, sure that everyone knew I was a pathetic loser who didn't have anyone to send her flowers.  The cashier stopped, looked at them, looked at me, and then picked them up and SNIFFED them delightedly.  "I love flowers," she said.  "I wish someone would buy some for me, too.  Your friend or whoever is lucky."  I almost told her the truth, but couldn't quite admit that I didn't have someone to buy them for or someone to buy them for me, so I smiled and said, "I love flowers too."

Since then, I buy myself flowers regularly.  I also go to movies alone if I want to see them, instead of waiting for a date to see them with.  If I feel like dinner in a nice restaurant, I eat dinner in a nice restaurant, enjoying it whether my companion is a boyfriend or a book.

I'm not saying it happened overnight, the belief that going ahead and doing the 'date things' myself isn't settling.  Even now I fight the curious looks from hostesses when I cheerfully say, "No, I'm not waiting for anyone.  Just one, please," and refuse the suggestion that I sit in an uncomfortable chair at the bar and eat my furtive lonely dinner under a giant football game on the TV.  No, I'll sit in the dining room, thank you, and enjoy my meal just like anyone else.  And when the cashier asks me who the flowers are for, I smile and say "They're for me.  I just love flowers."  One or two of them even said, "I never thought of buying them for myself.  I should do that!" and I always agree enthusiastically.

The journey to loving myself so that I didn't depend on someone else to do it for me has been so worthwhile, though.  While I'm dating a lovely man who does buy me flowers and plan sweet romantic weekends, I'm able to look at those gestures and appreciate them all the more because I don't depend on them to 'prove' I am loved.  They are allowed to be exactly what they are: expressions of love and appreciation that are sweeter for not being required, for not filling in some relationship check-box.  If you're depending on someone else's love to make you feel worthwhile, then you never will.  The void has to be filled from the inside; it'll just consume whatever you're given by others, voracious and unchanging.

Today is Valentine's Day, a difficult day for many.  For some, the holiday is just a stupid commercial Hallmark holiday designed to throw another set of rapids into relationship navigation.  For others, it's a genuinely painful reminder of love lost or missed, of personal emptiness.  Some of my friends have lost a partner in the last year, and my heart goes out to them.  Today, more than any other day of the year, we fight the social machine that tries to make us worthless, that slams binary genders into heteronormative monogamous constructs and dismisses everything else as 'weird'.  If you don't have love, if your love is wrong, if the love you have is incorrectly expressed, you're told that it makes you different, ugly, deviant, less-than.

I'm lucky, in my life, to have so many shining examples of love done right.  In all manner of incarnations, from freewheeling uncommitted singles to stable, dedicated polyamorous blended families, I am surrounded by people making love work, and making love into a life.  Maybe it's maturity, maybe it's the power of attraction drawing people like me to me, but the core of people who form the closest and most important structures in my life all share one thing, regardless of relationship status: we all recognise the value of loving yourself, of being happy to buy your own flowers and delighted when someone else buys them for you.  We all see, in ourselves, something worthy of loving and we're all committed to bringing that out into our daily lives.  When we look at each other, our partners, and ourselves, we see beings of light and wonder, souls we embrace without reservation, and individuals worthy of love, and we love each other, and that's good.

I love you all.