The Strange Telepathy Of Nineteen Years

We are at a delicatessen with two out-of-town friends. My wife has her sandwich in both hands, raising it to her mouth.

“Oh, they have pierogies here!” says the friend.

My wife lowers the sandwich.

Because my wife knows that whenever someone mentions pierogies, I will suggest they go to my favorite polish restaurant in town, which has Cleveland’s finest pierogies. But my wife also knows that I can never remember the name of the restaurant, and she does not want to try to answer my impending question through a mouthful of grilled cheese, so she takes the sandwich out of her mouth.

“You want good pierogies?” I say, right on cue. “The best pierogies in town are at… uh…” I turn to Gini.

“Sokolowski’s,” she says, and takes a huge bite out of her sandwich.

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We’re driving in the car, also with a friend.

“Oh!” she exclaims. “On our way home – ”

“Yeah,” I reply.

“But we – ”

“It’s okay,” I reassure her.

“I love you,” she says.

“I’m pretty sure you guys had a conversation,” my friend says, baffled, “But you didn’t use words.”

(We stop to battle in a couple of Pokemon gyms on the way home, even though I have to get to work. Because that, of course, is what the conversation is about.)

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I am at home, alone, because my wife has gone to Seattle for three weeks, seeing friends and lovers alike, and I am worried that she’ll never want to return. After all, she’s out in the wilderness, which she loves and I hate, and she’s having wild road trip adventures, and it’s been almost two weeks and I’m not telling her how much I miss her because Jesus, I’m just used to having her to share jokes with and I ache for her all the time.

She can’t miss me as much as I miss her. How could she? She’s on a vacation, I’m stuck at home alone.

What I don’t know is that even as I fret, she’s made the decision to cut the trip short and come home a few days early because she misses her weasel, and she is barreling down the freeway singing John Denver tunes about coming home.

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We have an annual schedule of things that anchor our lives here: there’s the RV show, the Meyers’ Bread and Soup party, the Detroit conventions, the Marvel and Star Wars premiere night, and of course – the most important day of all – my birthday.

We have the regular rhythms of our friends and lovers dropping by, guests staying at our house so frequently that we have two guest bedrooms.

We have the erratic streams of our favorite shows – Gini and her deep love for Inkmaster, my crazed love for Battlebots, the way Westworld and Game of Thrones caps our Sunday nights.

My life is intertwined with her in all the best ways. She supports me in my writing; I support her in her quilting. We walk the dog. We bicker.

And above all, we have our secret language humming between us, that shared accretion of decades of in-jokes and understandings, the years of arguments and misunderstandings decaying into a rich loam from which deep roots have grown. We have words for the tough times, but so much of what we do is signaled in body language, in anticipations, in reading pauses.

As of today, we’ve been married for nineteen years, which seems impossible. I was a wildly immature kid at the age of thirty, someone prone to self-destructive impulses, a pure selfishness cloaked in the guise of sacrifice. And yet somehow, thanks to Gini’s tempering impulses, I’ve matured into something I can, on most days, be proud of – and I know she’d say the same thing about herself.

It seems impossible. Then I think of our secret conversations:

“Ya wanna?”

“Yeah.”

And depending on what that inflection and time of day that is, that “Ya wanna?” is either sex, or YouTube videos, or a Pokemon go raid, or a dog walk, and we fill in our own Mad Libs because we have studied each other with love so thoroughly that we know.

I love you, Gini.

And I hope to for another nineteen years.

By then, nobody will understand us.

All Dicks Are Okay (Content Warning: Trump)

“I was getting fucked by a guy with Yeti pubes and a dick like the mushroom character in Mario Kart…”

That’s how Stormy Daniels describes the sex she’d had with Donald Trump. (I’d say “alleged” sex, but after a man gets his staff to pay $130,000 to keep someone quiet during a Presidential campaign, either that sex is not alleged or they’re really terrible with money.)

And I just wanted to say:

Maybe the sex she had with Trump was that terrible. One suspects it wasn’t great sex, given Trump’s selfishness and inability to close the deal in any other arena – but she is a porn star, who’s used to fulfilling fantasies, and she’s gonna fulfill a lot of fantasies by confirming liberals’ worst suspicions about Trump’s lack of bedroom savvy.

But the fact is this: you can have a stubby, Toad-style dick and still be attractive to people. You can have a stubby, Toad-style dick and still be damned good in bed.

Buying into that Trump-style illusion that big dicks make for better sex is a pretty scurrilous lie that can be easily disproved by asking a variety of women about the biggest dick they’ve had. Some women want massive size, of course – everyone has preferences – but for every “Oh, God, that 12″ cock was sooo good,” you’ll find a story of “I thought I’d want that, but it hurt a lot and took forever to get in, and also he thought that having a big dick was all there was to sex so he didn’t even know how to use that.”

I’m not saying everyone’s gonna want your dick – they generally want a person, which is why sending dick pictures rarely gets anyone any action. But I am saying that plenty of attractive women are with mushroom-dicked dudes who still manage to fulfill them, or even limp-dicked dudes who manage to fulfill them, because for most penis-preferring people sex isn’t about size, but also:

* Chemistry
* Reading each other’s bodies
* Willingness to use fingers, tongues, and toys
* Inventiveness
* Laughter

You may note that “big dick” isn’t a criteria on any of those.

So yeah. Stormy Daniels is getting a lot of PR right now by body-shaming Trump. But the problem with body-shaming Trump is that millions of other men are hearing her and getting the message that “If I have a small dick like she claims Trump has, I’m automatically a failure in bed.”

And that’s not true. That’s just more marketing.

Don’t buy into it.

You got this.

I Love To Be Tied Up. I Don’t Think I Like Rope.

I love to be tied up. But I don’t think I love rope. Because “rope” implies a connection to a vast and vibrant rigging community that doesn’t feel like it has a space for what I want.

Because you know what I love about being tied up? The restraint. I love that sense of being bound tight, of being hugged so closely in fiber that I don’t get to make decisions any more. I love surrendering to the knots, my social anxiety draining away because this is the position I was put into, and if I do happen to look awkward that’s because someone else spent great effort to haul me into this pose and it’s not my fault.

Being tied up is like a vacation from my neuroses.

Plus, I love the body awareness that being tied up gives me – every twitch of my muscles resonating across the web of ropes across my body, so the tautness in my arms brings some slack to my bound legs, a continual interplay of physics that yanks out of my usual thoughtstream and anchors me to the sensation of me as a purely physical being.

That’s being tied up.

But you know what rope looks like, at least from this outsider’s perspective?

Rope looks like a lot of wheedling about with aesthetics that I don’t care much about. The rope discussions that permeate up to my circles are centered around the perfect knots, the symmetry of ropes, the pristine nature of having everything aligned along a beautiful body. The discussion of what ties feel good doesn’t seem to make the mainstream takes.

Rope looks like a lot of focus on bodies that aren’t mine – female bodies, slender bodies, flexible bodies. Rope looks like my body viewed from an outside perspective – as if these rope scenes were merely showcases for a performer’s art. And I’m not sure I want that, because I don’t know if I look good in rope to the audience that some of these riggers seem to be striving for, and more importantly putting weight on that concern would trigger my anxiety all over again as I’d wonder whether my surrender was visually aesthetic enough for a crowd.

Rope looks like a hierarchy. I know there are people who’d debate that, but there’s definitely riggers who’ve got followings and teach classes, and even though I know teaching rope classes is rarely the way to vast fortune – seriously, I teach classes and I usually get a free weekend getaway and a few meals – the way a lot of riggers speak in hushed tones about the “established” riggers makes me feel like maybe I’m not being ambitious enough in who I choose to be tied up by.

I mean, I love fireplay, but there’s not routine fireplay conventions I can go to. Rope, man… with all the conventions and classes and teaches and schools of philosophy, rope looks imposing.

Rope looks like a skill that I don’t much want. I can’t tie a knot to save my life, so I’m not going to be a top. But even as a very casual bottom, I see the discussions of rope bottoming as a skill, that sense that you’re forever working on flexibility and finding the right rigger and the suspensions, my God, the goal is the suspension, and maybe I should lose a little weight for that because I’ve seen one too many discussions of whether you can suspend a fat person and I know you can, clearly, but would someone want to?

And rope bottoming looks painful. How long can you stay in that photograph-perfect tie before your shoulders give out? How much can you tolerate all your weight resting on that one hip tie?

And you know what?

I don’t know if I want to buy into all that.

And of course, I understand that I’m a rope eavesdropper, really. I don’t get the deep discussions. I understand that every community, particularly one as large as the rigger community, has endless swirls and divisions, so I’m sure I could find the one that’s right for me if I went looking. But I don’t know if I wanna go looking when what’s presented for public discussion so often seems at odds with what I desire. Like I said, for me, rope is a vacation from my usual fears of social anxiety, so pushing deeper into a group of folks to see who maybe agrees with me is a little nerve-wracking, and so I don’t do it.

Last night, my sweetie tied me up tight. And when I was in their rainbow-colored rope, with them whispering how gorgeous I looked naked and bound, I thought: Maybe we should photograph this.

But I stiffened. If we did that, then I’d be entering that arena where I’d wonder if I looked good enough, if my sweetie’s ties were technical enough, how the lighting and backdrop for this would be received by the rope community. And I found all that wonderful surrender being replaced by the sense that I would be stepping into the realm of performance, and it felt less intimate, and it felt less us and more a question of that community that I so imperfectly understand.

We did not take photos. And I surrendered again, feeling that tension dissolve into skin touch and loving binds, and it was luscious.

Like I said. I love being tied up. But my perception of rope, at least when it comes to public scenes and public discussions, is not something that I think I love. And I don’t think I’m necessarily alone in that.

A New Voice, Rising

“Find a picture of yourself as a young child – one where you were happy. Somewhere around eight or nine, before you really understood the world. And I want you to focus on that child, to consider that child as something worthy of being protected, and then give him the advice you would have wanted you to know back then.”

I’d gone to a therapist to get new opinions.

This sure was fucking new.

“The problem is,” she continued, “At some point you started to hate yourself for not knowing what to do. And that cascaded through adolescence, where you felt like you should be able to have a handle on a really complicated world, and you blamed every screwup on yourself.”

“But I am culpable for those screwups,” I protested.

“Is that what you’d tell other young kids? That they’re responsible for controlling every mean person who hurts them? Or would you tell them that they were doing the best with the knowledge they had at the time, and now they know better?”

Every time I thought my therapist’s ideas were a little too woo-woo for me, she’d score a really good point on me.

So I found a favorite picture of me as a kid – me with my Aunt Peggy and her dog Goldie, me as innocent of the upcoming meatgrinder called “middle school” as I could be. And I focused on it, and I talked to myself in an embarrassed mutter, making smalltalk with an imaginary version of myself as a kid.

It didn’t go well. The kid didn’t have much to say back.

I told her that. “The goal,” she said, “Is to create an advocate within yourself. A countervoice that grants you the compassion you so freely give other people.”

Yet after a couple of months, the photo stayed on the shelf, thoroughly untalked-to. I walked by young me, occasionally giving myself a sideeye as if I expected young me to give me a judging look – shouldn’t we be talking? – but no, young me was eternally happy as ever in his frozen little frame.

I wondered what it would be like to have an advocate. All the voices in my head were hateful. I’d leave a party, and they’d barrage me with all the charmless things I’d said. I’d look in the mirror and the voices would remind me how ugly I was, how fat, how bug-eyed. I’d hold hands with my wife and the voices would tell me that she didn’t really want to hold hands with you, you were grasping and needlessly controlling and Gini hates PDAs why are you putting her through this at the movie, for Chrissake?

The only time the voices were silent was when I wrote.

I knew how to write. And if the voices spoke to me then, they were critics intended to make me into a better writer, so when I was overwhelmed I retreated into writing projects – brainstorming plots, pondering revisions.

Writing was as close to silence as I got.

Yet though the picture gathered dust, my therapist and I kept having productive sessions. She was relentless in maneuvering me into giving myself the benefit of the doubt – yes, you screwed up in that interaction, but did you mean to? No, intent isn’t a magic wand, but it doesn’t have to be a club to beat yourself with either. Can you learn to do a better job next time without flagellating yourself with self-hatred?

Can you screw up and still forgive yourself?

And with it all came those realizations that I was too powerless to blame the bullies in middle school, so I’d taken all the control upon myself, and internalized a potent self-hatred that whipped myself into improvement. I’d hauled myself out of my social pariah status and learned to be clever, learned to dress better, learned how to make friends, and every lesson was backed by that deep fear that if I screwed up I’d be friendless and in seventh grade again, not so much despised as forgotten.

That terror had gotten me a long way, but now it was the engine of my self-destruction.

And still my therapist kept forcing me to view my current fuckups in a more measured light – okay, you were stressed and said something thoughtless to your wife, but can you repair the damage without having to inflict a day’s worth of regret upon yourself? Can you not self-spiral?

I was in the bathroom, washing my hands, when I had two shocking revelations:

One, that I was muttering to myself when I was alone. Which was something I knew I did, but I kept self-erasing the memory of it because I knew it was a sign of my mental illness and I didn’t want to think about it that much. But when I was having a bad day my voices would be externalized and I’d actually tell myself, “Nobody likes you, everyone hates you, nobody likes you.”

I had, I realized, been literally talking to myself for years. Probably decades. I’d just forget that whenever I wasn’t alone, or in a decent mood.

But the reason I realized that is because another voice spoke up – also me.

“That’s not true, Ferrett,” I said to myself. “Your wife loves you, your girlfriend loves you, your parents and your kids love you – and you’re worthy of that, you know that, right?”

I stood, stunned, unsure of that voice. Because though it was contradicting me, it was also deeply concerned for me, not so much telling me off as it was asking me to ponder the evidence and decide because it knew I could do better.

I didn’t know what to say. To either voice.

But I went back out into the dining room and looked at the picture. It was not my eight-year-old self speaking to me so kindly, but instead another version of me to counterbalance the self-hatred, a version of me that I hoped to be one day.

I thought if I ever had a voice being kind to me it would be my therapist, or my Uncle Tommy, or maybe Gini, but no – this was actually my voice welling up from within, asking me to cut myself some slack.

I suppose in a movie, I would have had some triumphant moment where I raised my fists to a sunny sky and roared in triumph.

Instead, I simply muttered, “Huh” and went back to work.

And that compassionate voice is still low. It doesn’t come out every time the hateful voices do. But it comes out sometimes, and when it does it chases them away – it makes me realize how baseless they are, and how much more powerful forgiveness is than ritualized abuse.

The voice is low. But it’s growing. Growing in strength.

I’m just still astonished it’s there.

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(In case anyone’s interested, my therapist is Cherish Dorrington, and she does take Skype appointments. I’m not selling her services, but it seems disingenuous to discuss a good therapy practice and not let people know where it is.)

“We Cut A Board”: On Writing Drafts

We were novice woodworkers, and it was a very bad table saw, and I don’t know why I’m making excuses this early, because nobody lost a finger. When you’re just starting out with power tools, “Keeping all your appendages attached” is a triumph in and of itself.

That said, every Wednesday I’d go out to the garage with my friend Eric, and we’d build something. Or part of something. Or we’d learn how to use a tool that could build part of something.

But the best part of the Woodworking Wednesdays was sharing our work with Gini. Whenever I got back to the house, my wife would perk up and say, “So what’d you do tonight?” And I’d tell her all the cool things we’d done that evening, bubbling over with enthusiasm, and she’d be thrilled that we were making progress.

Until that Very Bad night.

“So what’d you do tonight?” she asked.

“We cut a board,” I said glumly.

And I watched her face as she did the calculations – yes, we’d been out there for three and a half hours. Yes, she’d heard the power tools running on and off all that time.

Her brow creased as she realized we’d spent an entire evening trying to cut a board square, a ninety-degree cut across two parallel sides, for a bookcase we wanted to build – and it had taken us three and a half hours to accomplish that trivial feat. I saw her correctly imagining us starting out with a project that required a 36″ board, then settling for a 35-3/4″ board, then cursing as we adjusted the measurements down to a 35-1/4″ board, continually trying to get the tablesaw to cut that perfect right angle…

“Well,” she said, brightening, “At least you – ”

“We cut it wrong,” I said, admitting total defeat before traipsing back into the bedroom.

Now. The evening, as it turns out, was not a total waste. We learned a lot about compensating for wobbly fences, and how to correct (or not correct) a bad cut that we made. We figured out all the ways in which our bad saw was tetchy, and come the next week we used all of that effort to make a good cut in only half an hour or so.

It was not a pleasant evening.

But even though we finished the night with zero results, we came away with a great deal of knowledge about what not to do, which in some cases is more valuable than a completed product.

The reason I’m telling you this is because last night, I went downstairs to write the first chapter of my new novel. And I spent about ninety minutes massaging the 500 words I’d written the day before, fine-tuning the exciting opening of an hyper-competent techno-genius breaking into a prison cell, before realizing this wasn’t the story of a hyper-competent techno-genius, this was the story of someone scared but competent doing something they’d never done before.

And with that, I realized everything I’d been doing for the past three nights was completely wrong. I’d been starting the novel from the wrong emotional beat, because I’d been focusing on the wrong aspects of this character, and needed to come up with a start that emphasized this person’s vulnerability, not their flawless planning.

Which happens a lot, particularly in writing, particularly if you just wing things like I do. You get a couple thousand words in and realize it’s the wrong character, or the wrong plot development, or the wrong tone.

And because people are always sharing their daily word count, there’s that temptation to think that all that writing was wasted energy. But it wasn’t. You learned what didn’t work, which is equally valuable. You had the humility to walk away from the sunk cost fallacy, the wisdom to stop polishing a turd, and the faith in your own voice to find the story you’re excited about telling instead of the story you accidentally wrote down.

That’s all progress, even if it’s not as tidy as “+1,000 words.”

So when I slumped upstairs after realizing I’d have to scrap everything and start over fresh tomorrow, Gini asked me: “So how’d the writing go tonight?”

“I cut a board,” I said, and she nodded.