Talking to Joe Loya: the power of story & freedom from solitary confinement

A while ago, my wonderful friend Amy Gutman did me the great favor of introducing me to Joe Loya. When Amy introduces me to someone, I do my best to put my best non-disappointing face forward because she is a friend-yente extraordinaire whose people have an amazing track record of improving my life. (For the 394239493th time, thank you, Amy!)

Meeting Joe was no exception; as it stands, he is my all-time favorite bank robber. As with all the best people, we had no time for pleasanteries and started immediately gabbing about things like, oh, skulls, mortality, prison and identity. What else do you talk about over (virtual) tea?

We had such a brilliant conversation (translation: Joe said lots of brilliant things and I fangirled) about the power of story and metaphor. I felt it was such a waste for it to be only for my own eyes, so I asked him if I could reproduce this conversation for my blog. He kindly assented.

I hope you enjoy Joe as much as I do.


Read the post, which now lives at The National Book Review.


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Conversations on Radical Integrity: The real reason dating sucks, and the secret to growing a great network

My friend Alison Traina is a coach, consultant, and all-around inspiring human being. She has the best tagline in the universe: “working at the intersection of justice and joy.” I mean, right? Game over. The rest of us should pack up and go home. Even more powerful because I know she actually lives it in a world where most people don’t care, or the few people who do care think they have to choose between justice or joy.

We were having a girlfriend chat, which morphed into a juicy conversation on why misanthropy is actually empowering and how radical integrity can help grow a great network. I share the conversation with her permission.



Alison: I’m feeling mild despair at my local dating options. Which made me think that perhaps I should move to another country where men are potentially more… Worldly? Intellectual? Something? Which made me think of you. Should I cross South Korea off my dating list?

Simone: Yes. What are you feeling is missing from the local pool exactly?

Alison: It’s a combination of things. Definitely intellectualism. And there’s so much basic-ness. Dude version of basic: “Here is a list of my favorite sports teams and alcoholic beverages. I’m looking for a girl to chill with because I’m laid back. Insert subtle body shaming / past relationship shaming (please be fit, no kids, etc).” Pictures of cars, shirtless bro-squad, etc., invariably low-res.

Simone: So the reason you’re seeing so much crap is because most people are crap. Ahahahahaha. You asked for my opinion and I am misanthropic like this. Really, most people have terrible taste. Most people are simple. Most people don’t think deep, complex thoughts. Most people are pretty okay with the status quo. This is true for all genders but espcially for men, because the patriarchy also fucks men over by discouraging emotional engagement with their own souls because that requires vulnerability. And what is more anathema to the masculine construct than vulnerability?

Alison: Fuck yes. So true.

Simone: Patriarchy, to men: “don’t worry about your feeilngs or vulnerability, just go kick a ball.” When men have been internalizing that all their lives, is it any wonder that they grow up to be adults with limited depth? So, the reason you are seeing so many insipid boring men is that most men are insipid and boring. I completely identify with and sympathize with your predicament. It is maddening. It’s not you; the patriarchy and the alienation resulting from the capitalist, uber-consumerist, fragmented state of our society. It’s the world.

Alison: I’m doing the things that one does to meet people, and still, lameness abounds!

Simone: Indeed it does! Also, a lot of people are in relationships and only a very small percentage of those relationships are a healthy meeting of compatible equals.

Alison: Agreed!

Simone: I guess my point is, stop being surprised at the difficulty, the dearth?

Alison: I see it all around. And I’m somehow still hopeful I’ll be different.

Simone: It sounds bleak, but it also kind of is not, and accepting that made a big difference for me. Are you a fan of the Ask Polly column? I’m pretty obsessed and have read her columns and her book religiously. something she teaches which really stayed with me is that, in order to get the Dream Man and Dream Relationship (and you should never settle for less), you have to build up a really, really delicious and compelling vision of a solo life. You have to.

In the past half year, I went from “Okay, but I really want to meet my person and have all the nice partnership things” to, I have so many delicious dreams and aspirations for just me for many decades into the future and I cannot wait for it to all happen. And if someone pops up along the way, super, if not, I’ll be too busy building a house in mexico/writing a book about theology/travelling the world and entertaining lovers.

It was very much a conscious process to try to devote myself to this vision of me, my life, that is juicy and subversive and thrilling and scary and sexy. Enough of all those things that the thought of a partner, while great, seemed like a nice accessory as opposed to something whose absence I will grieve.

Alison: And I’m already in the place of building that life for myself.

Simone: I can tell! And the world isn’t always coming to meet you at your level of awesome. I genuinely feel this way. It’s lonely being amazing. So, in the meanwhile, solidarity, sister! And also, we’re total babes. we can always get [redacted] no problem. Which I know you know. You are super amazing, and sisterhood is the best.

Alison: As you’re saying all this, I’m realizing I’m also feeling disconnected, friend-wise. Which I’m sure is where some of this longing is coming from. I need to build up a delicious, subversive friend network. How do I do that?

Simone: Oh my god. That is everything.

Alison: My network is all right, but it’s been / could be stronger.

Simone: Well, you have me, which is like, so great.
Alison: Basically all I need.

Simone: 🙂 I would feel profoundly unsatisfied and lonely without my network. I have a #1 secret for getting a killer network, which applies only to myself because it’s based only on my experience and my brain. And I say it’s a secret because it was a secret to me until recently. It’s a simple three step process! [insert manic smile with photoshopped teeth]

One: Take diligent stock of everything that I am ashamed of, hate the most inside myself, everything about myself that feels sketchy and dark. Then look squarely at it, sit with it, talk to it, own it, celebrate it. (This process is a breeze, you can tell.**) Two: Bring all one hundred percent me as much as possible to wherever I go (a.k.a. radical integrity-making). Three: Relax.

This is my secret.

(** It is not a breeze <- understatement of the year. I figured out how to do this only after years and years of active spiritual seeking, self-fluency work with Havi Brooks, and one-on-one work with many top-notch life coaches, teachers and therapists.) 

Alison: Where does step 1 come into play re: building a badass network?

Simone: Okay. I believe that what’s around us externally is a reflection of what’s inside us. With some serious caveats. Not so much if you’re a victim of crime or racist legislation or a wartime refugee, but if you’re dealing with mostly first world problems, then it can be a very useful construct.

Alison: So I’m definitely mostly awesome but with some suckage. Got it.

Simone: I mean, this is a hard idea because, it’s definitely not, “if your network sucks, it’s because you suck.” It’s not that kind of law of attraction garbage. It’s more like, the more you get into radical integrity with yourself, the more things in your life that aren’t aligned with your most urgent truth falls away.

Alison: Radical integrity. I like this.

Simone: For example, I’m friends with you — wonderful you — right? and I’m friends with some other awesome people. To get to the version of me who could attract you and other awesome people into my network, I had to burn so many bridges. Not that you need to burn bridges (actually, that might just be me and my unique cocktail of chaos and bad judgment) but so much bullshit has to die before your truth can shine.

I lost so many friends, aspects of my formerly held identities, networks to which I belonged half-heartedly. I lost relationships that I thought were true and in the best service of me. I found out that they actually weren’t, and how I found out is that those went away on their own as I filled up more and more of myself.

Alison: Ooo, belonging half-heartedly. This is key.

Simone: I was clinging to (not saying you’re doing this, I was) half-hearted, or even 3/4-hearted friendships, relationships and commitments. The reason is — and it’s important — that I wanted them to like me. I wanted their approval and validation so badly.

Alison: Yeah, that’s a crap motivator, but super compelling.

Simone: The reason I thought I needed their approval is because I was conflicted about my own internal landscape. Once I gathered up all of the parts of me — all the fucked up, miserable, vain, arrogant, evil, lazy, embarrassing, psychotic parts of me and said, listen, y’all have given me hell, and I wish I were some superhuman species who can exist without blemishes —

Alison: Don’t we all!

Simone: … but here we are. And I think, actually, it’s better to be human because it means I can love and be loved by other people who are also kind of  fucked up. So let’s call truce. I am still fucked up, miserable, vain, arrogant, evil, lazy, embarrassing, psychotic and I no longer think I need to be different because I’m just a person who is awake and paying attention and flailing just like everyone else.

This allowed me the freedom from approval-seeking. Oh, someone thinks I’m ornery and weird? Guess what, I already know that about myself and respectfully don’t care and like myself anyway, at least half the time.

Alison: I am fascinated by this.

Simone: I reached a state of not giving a fuck and when I did that, a bunch of people moved from the inside of my circle to the periphery, or completely disappeared. But then, when I do that, there is always one person who is like, “oh my god, I love you” and that person becomes part of my inner circle forever. That’s the gift. That’s what I’m after. This is how I picked up all the best people in my life.

Alison: Brilliant.

Simone: So that is my crazy long, and generally just crazy answer to the question of, how working on your internal landscape helps with networking. I don’t want a loose network of people whom I superficially enjoy, who could be useful to me potentially in practical ways. I want a burning, red-hot, fierce, connected-by-magic, super-exclusive coven which electrifies me, gets me in the full glory (and horror) of my humanness, with whom I can plot nothing short of a revolution.

In order to do that, I have to be devotedly true to the complex and sometimes-unsettling wholeness of who I am. Light and dark, good and bad, narcissistic and generous, honorable and petty — all of it.  I call that radical integrity. Everything I’m telling you — which I’m mostly saying as a way to re-teach myself — boils down to that.

When you practice radical integrity, in the short term, you might end up with fewer friends and less of the kinds of satisfaction that you’re used to. You might feel like you’re drifting further away from the vision of life that you thought you wanted. But then the process of getting the thing that is even better has already begun.

No part of this is neat and clean and #SatisfactionGuaranteed. It’s hard, it’s messy, it is endlessly wobbly-feeling, it’s not for the faint of heart. This mission is only entrusted to those who can show up for the crazy hard work.

I am it. And you are it.

Alison: You telling me that most people are simple and have bad taste and are okay with the status quo was incredibly freeing. Like, I don’t have to expect most people to be something they’re not!. AND I get to seek out people who are dynamic and complex and radical, and build a community of those people. This is the best news. I love you!


Then there was much rejoicing.



Get Missives from Our Lady of Perpetual Fuck Yeah (i.e. the patron saint of this website)! Every two weeks, I’ll email you a benediction, links to new posts and probably appraisals of sex scenes in whatever books I’m reading.

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