First Kiss • 1 December 2010

Five days, five social networks. But back home, a day thick in memories twenty years old. Sixth grade feelings pinball through my body. They're crumbling up the tragicomedy I tell myself about adolescence.

Last week’s a blur. Coffee with a beautiful-minded sociologist and ashtanga home-practitioner, who first learned the method with me in my PhD mentor’s office, after that teacher died on his motorbike. Lunch with my first yoga teacher in Beverly Hills, down the street from the apartment where, at 25, I remembered how to be a math person. Ice cream with the sister in law I judged too clueless to be a parent, and with the niece who shakes up feelings that can only be described as maternal. A guest room in the Silverlake womb-home of someone who pushed my edge for four edgy years, and who cured me overnight of my mental illness when we got trashed on Cuervo, Kirkegaard and Hume in a cabin at Black Butte Ranch. Thanksgiving with Portland’s tiny fine arts fringe, including the man who makes insideowl tick, a woman whose band I loved in college, a beekeeper artist, and an old-fashioned printmaker who works on massive old iron machines she drove cross country on a semi. A Coava Coffee shot whose raspberry suede perfection has ruined me for other espresso, suggested by the person whose emotional intelligence, social skill and aesthetic sense were already decades beyond me when he was born as my little brother in 1979.

But whatever. This pinball in my body goes ping on my old social identity—a habit of setting up as an introverted outsider with superior taste. Lately I’ve wondered if it was the ecstatic months in Mysore that opened me up and taught me to finesse the energy-exchange of social life without getting drained. But I dunno. There’s all this feeling right now of being 11 and 12, the ways I was—maybe—being opened up even back then by a crude, hostile world.

For my first kiss, I got a life. Sixth grade social status was revolution for a preacher’s kid. During the previous six years (in rural Montana, nobody made you go to school until first grade), fluctuations in my standing were measured by the obscenity of the nickname to which my special personal suffix – “weenie”—was pinned. Over eight years, we were a class of 14 to 17 corn-fed farm kids with a gender ratio even freakier than your average agricultural society: some years just two girls to the whole crop of boys.

Unlike the other girl, who had two older brothers and went on to point guard for the Air Force Academy, I was only a good draft pick for team math contests. But when I took the boys’ dare and kissed Bryan, I came of age and finally got some respect. No wonder: Bryan was our serially expelled class clown, even poorer than most, with chapped lips and jagged teeth, patchy rat-tailed hair and only two changes of clothes. And I kissed him in front of everyone: right on the front steps of the school, moments before Mrs. K arrived to let us in from recess.

I spit Bryan’s kiss out like I saw my dad do with snake-poison; and in that moment I merged not with the boy but with the whole class. (My next kiss wasn’t for another 5 years, Tyler the quarterback from jazz choir, a looooong-suffering sophomore love whose innocence seemed to obliterate my brutal initiation.) After the first kiss, I joined the boys for everything but the drinking, the smoking, and whatever it was they did at those Friday night, ahem, boner contests. Our school mascot was the Outlaw, pointing two six-shooters and draped in bullet garlands; the image was no joke out there in libertarian country. We had four-wheeling parties (yes, at age 11), BB gun wars, swam in irrigation ditches or ice skated atop them for miles. Sometimes I'd take long phone calls to listen to Beastie Boys tapes without bringing the (Satanic) media in to the house.

A few months ago in therapy, I wondered aloud why I feel so at ease with the crusty men others find barbaric. Owl Whisperer suggested that there was a forgotten time when I identified with such barbarians. True.

Outlaw enfranchisement felt good, but becoming a member and thus getting a life also made me world-weary. Soon after the kiss, I wrote in my plastic-bound journal (which hid for years between my waterbed bladder and its frame) that “more action means less reflection.” I was concerned that I would lose my relationship with Jesus (he had taught me so much about turning the other cheek during the “weenie” years – would the end of martyrdom make me shallow?). And I was dismayed that, as I spent more time being a normal, rowdy sixth grader, my personal writing might decline. Worst, my life suddenly felt meaningless. In the journal, I wrote that since I’d been welcomed in to the group, I’d had no time to be all alone, and had lost the deep ache that connected me to who I really was inside.

A year on, in seventh grade, I went back to the post-kiss entry and wrote that what I feared had happened. I’d become shallow. I wrote that my best self had been lost, now that I had become less reflective, more active. As a social outsider, I thought I had written beautifully. And I had loved my classmates without any love in return—which I considered to be the highest possible emotion. (Glorifying unrequited love at 12… a little self-cruelty in that, but also some Kant and some Arjuna in drag.) The past self writes that she no longer understands the meaning of her own life. And because she’s become “a somebody” and people are often kind to her for selfish reasons, she feels she’s also lost access to the boys’ “true” selves. Only the lowest of the low can see others as they are.

These are the things mini-owl said to herself when she believed that personality was durable. When she thought meaning was an inner phenomenon best encountered alone in her journal on a Saturday night.

Now I’d say… the pre-kiss life was theoretical to the max. From the beginning, classmates smelled intellectualism and the way I used it to control my world. The wisest part of them (the part that was protective of the weakest among us) knew they didn’t have to worry: my mind was a fortress. Their verbal jabs respected my attachment to words, and used that weapon of my choosing to try to force me in to their world. But I’d just flash them a sorrow-for-humanity frown and swallow their arrows, go home to my room and poop them out as pearls, beautifully arranged in the journals. I retained full narrative control.

The boys were brutal as life is brutal; but in part they were just frustrated that I refused to meet them in their world. They loved it—and me—when I finally showed them my anger and my ability to act crazy.

Sometimes I try live as pure action, collapsing reflection and meaning in to doing. It’s a way of challenging the 11-year-old’s formula of more action = less reflection = less meaning. The contention is that there is greatest meaning in a life that fully synthesizes action and reflection. How to glamorize such a life? Is there a snappy Latin or Sanskrit phrase that means Stop taking notes, burn the maps, dismantle your meanings?

Or maybe Dogen + Socrates: To forget the self is to know the self?

No. That’s ludicrous. Maybe something in prayer form:

Let me have the heart to think the smart thoughts, the guts to not think the stupid thoughts, and the head to know the difference.

Maybe just the Talking Heads chorus: The world was moving and she was right there with it (and she was)

I dunno. Pure action is a good challenge, but after this week I’m remembering what was rich about life before the kiss. The all reflection/ no action model.

Curating my past—ten years of living up and down the Pacific coast. My inner sixth grader would have visited holy sites –apartments, schools, restaurants—in ritual fashion, presencing the past. But there’s no quiet time for that: too many loved ones here. Eleven months after leaving, everyone has brighter eyes, great digs and a bigger name. Fruition is everywhere. Celebrating what’s changed  is actually so beautiful it’s painful. It makes the skin above my sternum contract and my nostrils flare to tighten the tear ducts.

There is a way of being in a place without being there at all—just using its coordinates to trigger old feelings and the stories I invent to hold them in place. According to the Google Maps van, the stairs where I kissed Bryan are still there, but crumbled halfway down. The old schoolhouse looks dead. I wonder if, standing there next month, there will be any meaning at all left in those memories.

24 Comments

  • Posted 1 December 2010 at 4:34 am | #
  • Posted 1 December 2010 at 5:33 am | #

    Owli-o,
    my transition came a lot later. At 16. And took me a good 5 years to find my way back. It’s a spiral though, isn’t it. Not a straight line. But anyway…

  • s
    Posted 1 December 2010 at 7:16 am | #

    Fucking brilliant. A high water mark in your work.

    Arjuna did spend quite a bit of time in drag, btw

  • Posted 1 December 2010 at 2:57 pm | #

    SNOW!!!

    When I took samastithi at the end of practice, there was just enough sunlight to see a skiff on the tree branches. Now there are HUGE flakes everywhere. HUGE. I broke out the -32 degree boots. December it is.

    At the market, 80% of the stall are have suddenly switched over from root vegetables to holly and basketball-sized “kissing balls” of mistletoe. The only food left is apples, kale, a few cauliflowers and squash. I got Tantre’ Farms’ last two bunches of kale—the heartiest, deep purple variety. At the end of kale, you lop the top off the plant like a flower… the leaves get tinier and tinier, down to the fertile nub from which the whole year’s worth of leaves sprouted. Probably best to eat these last ones raw.

    Speaking of, Rebecca! Thank you, including for rolling with my plans for kale breakfast. I’d like to say we’re the same person, but you’re warmer and blue-eyed and far less ridiculous. Your merging skills were and are appreciated. Extremely beautiful, even more than I realized from here.

    S, yes, I’ve noticed. Thank you.

  • Posted 1 December 2010 at 3:10 pm | #

    Mark Singleton and Stefanie Syman try to say something intelligent amid some really shallow New Yorkers. Those two need a much bigger podium. I’m trying not to crush on MS for that lovely accent and the moody condescension.

    In six months it’ll be a cliche’ to say so and especially to travel there for it, but the best shot of espresso in the land. In every way.

    Where I lost my bite splint.

  • Posted 1 December 2010 at 3:50 pm | #

    what a wonderful rant – and I mean that in the best possible way- reading it I felt like you are purging yourself through this text and somehow reading it has a cathartic effect on me.
    hugs

  • Posted 1 December 2010 at 7:50 pm | #

    Just looked at your bite splint link. I passed through Portland again recently (on our trip to BC) and really liked the vibe of the city. Now I know more reasons why.

  • s
    Posted 1 December 2010 at 8:16 pm | #

    Yo, yogachickie, you read that? How do you like that for writing?

  • catygay
    Posted 1 December 2010 at 9:01 pm | #

    Calm down you idiot.

  • Cotoreed
    Posted 2 December 2010 at 3:21 am | #

    Yikes. So intense. Yet…accepting.

  • Posted 2 December 2010 at 9:09 pm | #

    Owl, O O O this is so good! The flaky chapped lips..the chaffed journal…the coordinates of pubescence…

    I found a carefully closed box-within-a-box on my shelf a few years ago. Wondering what I would have hid so carefully besides 40oz caps, I opened it. There I discovered a grand stash of the notes I’d passed to classmates in middle and high school— and then had kept. Ug.

    It’s as mortifying to see oneself then through the lens of now as it was then not to be Seen. The urge to connect bubbling up at all costs. If not to classmates, then to language.

    So what was this? Documentation of social life? Reflection-in-action? The contents of the notes are Pure Shallow— social hyperventilation.

    Back then, shakti-pot kicks came from someone noticing your awesome shirt (likely velour & turqoise)— the all-over feeling of absolution.

    Thanks for your touch on a touchy & touching time.

  • Carl
    Posted 3 December 2010 at 7:14 pm | #

    Whoa, wait a sec… You get intoxicated? Tequila cures mental illness?

  • Posted 5 December 2010 at 6:26 pm | #

    Fatou, yes. It’s a rant in the context of acceptance.

    I have not had many rants in me lately, but had a proper one running internally on Friday morning. After practicing primary series on a pair of 25% functional delts.

    Sara, when I mentioned I was in bed with a mild case of six tropical diseases, it was true! Typhoid, Yellow Fever, etc etc etc, all pricked in to a couple of tender five-inch perimeters on the upper arms.

    A full-on immunization scheme. Also, I’m buying a real motorcycle helmet, since what comes with a scooter in Mysore is a bucket of hard plastic reinforced by cardboard. Trying to be responsible here. Til now, I’ve never had a flu shot or tetanus or polio, let alone the hepatituses or yellow fever or all that other stuff people on the up end of Risk Society are supposed to be afraid of. Shudder.

    You’d have thought the travel nurse was getting commission for every shot she got me to agree to. (The soreness actually increased over the first three days, and last night I woke to deep muscle spasms.) Then she discussed the dangers of swimming in rivers or getting too close to Indian puppies (uh huh, uh huh, maybe I’ll be the next ashtangi to take a street puppy home), and tried to push malaria pills (I did take Lariam in SE Asia in 1997, along with a travel partner who, one night in Hanoi, had the first of several episodes of skitzophrenia initiation. Turns out Lariam’s a trigger for those of us with some family history.)

    But what really shocked me about the healthcare-for-the-rich regime was the lecture about how I should never stay in an Indian hospital. Not suitable for faculty—too much risk of this and that. Instead, I should leverage my “evacuation insurance” and get straight to Singapore.

    Evacuation insurance.

    Singapore.

    Being “Premier Care” in this massive medical system has brought Owl Whisperer and deeply healing cranio-sacral therapy, as I have learned to work the logic of the borg on its own terms. Still, the hair-trigger airlift policy combined with tells me the borg’s definition of “risk” is even more bizarre than I’d guessed. With all this tropical disease coursing in my system, I feel I’ve been initiated myself, into cy-borg-hood. I wonder what other killer pathogens they store around here.

  • Posted 5 December 2010 at 6:49 pm | #

    Carl, it was 1998. Tequila made me make a connection I’d avoided. With someone I felt too seen by. The creepy fact that we shared the same world really pissed me off for several years. I used to glare at her across the college classroom, and roll my eyes when she walked in to the cafeteria. She was hateless toward me though.

    These days, she is writing a short story with me (standing in for her, perhaps) as the main character. I tried to help… but I can’t figure out the character’s motivation.

  • Posted 5 December 2010 at 7:07 pm | #

    Wombat, I listened to Kevin Kelly on Radiolab. Dimestore mimetics, eh? Susan Blackmore makes it halfway believable for me, but this is just embarrassing because he’s out of his depth. What an inept metaphorization/mythification of the basic mechanism evolutionary theory proposes. Hanging out with social scientist positivists around here (people who think that socio-cultural change “really” follows formulae), I’ve gotten this view in to how many academic arguments go WAY beyond the pale of the writer’s epistemological self-awareness. It’s shocking… we were not allowed to be that careless in grad school.

    I don’t get why so many writers, of all sorts, are just not ok with radical contingency. Or maybe it’s not fear of uncertainty so much as not knowing what it would take to really shake magical, teleological thinking out of their explanations.

    There is a lot of integral jargon at the start of this short Ken Wilber chat, but by the end he’s embarrassed all of Intelligent Design thinking… implicitly putting The Secret and this strain of AI together in the same dustbin. The funny thing is that Wilber is full-on teological… he’s just amazing at skirting magical-metaphysical thinking.

  • Posted 5 December 2010 at 7:08 pm | #
  • Posted 6 December 2010 at 3:41 am | #

    What a lovely practice space!

    So, I’m not clear on what you mean by radical contingency. Do you mean contingency in the way that evolutionary biologists speak of constraint? (I.e., there are a finite number of possible mutations at any one point in time, most of which are deleterious, and transitional mutations, for the most part, must be neutral or advantageous, thus constraining the path of evolution.) Or do you mean something entirely different? (and, perhaps, more about epistemological awareness?)

    To be honest, I have a hard time listening to integral stuff, so I am not that familiar with it. Sometimes I can open my heart and mind to hear what they are getting at without getting caught up in the ridiculousness of what they are actually saying. I had trouble with this when I first started practicing — one of the reasons I gravitated toward ashtanga was that by saying fewer things, the teachers said fewer ridiculous things… But, if I’m in the right space, I allow myself to intuit the meaning, although sometimes my attitude can be condescendingly anthropological.

  • Posted 7 December 2010 at 4:17 pm | #

    Owl, I did think you were being metaphorical about having ingested the tropics. But some wise folks tell us the metaphor is where the literal occurs. Or some such backward accuracy.

  • Posted 11 December 2010 at 8:44 am | #

    Owl, I’m not sure, but you might find this discussion interesting.

  • Posted 11 December 2010 at 3:27 pm | #

    Hey, loves. Both grandmothers down, a broken hip (now in so-called rehab) and a stroke (made it to hospice on a hardcore morphine drip). I can’t feel out whether they’d want me talking about them or not. So much suffering yesterday for my maternal grandma, it seemed, but some peace or something like it today. Cognitive function coming back together – more in a bit. xx

  • Posted 11 December 2010 at 8:25 pm | #

    Oh, I’ m so sorry to hear that, Owl. Take care.

  • fatou2002
    Posted 12 December 2010 at 6:56 pm | #

    sorry to hear about your grandmas, I lost both of mine to stroke, and in the end, when they finally left us, I was out of the country. Always felt bad about that.
    hope you are there with them, in person or in spirit
    take care, lots of love

  • RE
    Posted 13 December 2010 at 5:28 pm | #

    I’m so very sorry to hear of the
    Grandmother(s) situation. Whether they would want you talking about them or not, you honor them everyday. XO

  • Posted 14 December 2010 at 4:55 am | #

    Thanks. More soon. xoxoxoxo

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