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: ūüôā 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.


 

Remembering my Italy, Elena Ferrante and female violence

I am ashamed that I never read Ferrante’s work until the recent media brouhaha over the self-appointed sleuth who went after her “real” identity and “found” it. Especially ashamed because I was a student of the Italian language, spent 5 months in Bologna and was well-acquainted with her stature on both Italian and the international stages.

I rarely did my homework, though.

Most of the time I spent in Italy, I was crying to my boyfriend on the phone, fighting with a certifiably crazy Brazilian roommate or — the worst — swallowing pasta that tasted¬†under-sauced and under-boiled to¬†my Korean palate.

I probably avoided¬†Ferrante and other major Italian writers¬†because of the emotional muck surrounding the self-pity I’ve felt regarding my time in Italy. I hated the thought of disappointing other people who assumed that I’d spent the entire semester in bella italia¬†being serenaded in¬†a gondola by men with honeyed words on their tongues and pomade on their hair, lost in dreamy contemplations of Petrarch and gorging on prosciutto e vino (well, that last part was true.) I couldn’t tell them how much time I’d spent in bed, hiding, how terribly afraid I’d felt of everything, how unreasonably alone, unable to adapt, failing to thrive, and blaming myself¬†for it harshly at the same time.

That doesn’t exactly make good chitchat,¬†and I had a peppy and blustery exterior to maintain. So I kept lying when people asked; “Oh yes, Italy was just amazing!” Lying compounds shame, but only 100% of the time.

But really, that was a long time ago.

Long after leaving Italy, after enough new traumas had replaced the sepia-tinted spectres of my semester abroad, I found myself fondly re-creating the tuna and cream pasta that my other, non-crazy Pugliese roommate taught me to make; making confident pronouncements about the legitimacy of potato slices and rosemary leaves on pizza; missing the simple and hard-to-explain pleasure of a pappa al pomodoro, a soup consisting of tomatoes and stale bread.

I thought food may have been the only thing that can bypass my strange, selective Italy aversion. And by far, I cannot find a single other victim of such an affliction, past or present, which makes me feel even more like an maladjusted freak.

But, alas, nothing like a feminist, philosophical and literary quandary to stimulate my bullshit ego-drama to take a back seat. Who dares violate the privacy of an author who took great pains to guard it? Especially for a woman!

I picked up The Days of Abandonment because, um, it was the first book that I found on Google that was available as a PDF. There, I admitted it. (I support the writers and artists I love by paying for their work! After ascertaining that I do, indeed, love them, through the means easily available to me! What I did was akin to reading a Kindle sample! Sue me for the sins of the internet age!)

All I knew about the book was that it was a story of a woman who was abandoned by her husband — with whom she had two children — for a much younger woman, barely in her 20’s. Good times.

Themes of heartbreak and abandonment hit me still a bit in the tender spots (two giant breakups in one year!) but I trusted a skilled writer enough to have me reach beyond the shallowness of my own pain-narrative.

I had judged well. Tragically, I was halfway into the volume when I realized that that is all that the PDF contained. Deceptive file! Half of the book! I hurried to purchase the Kindle version.

My hunger to consume the book was due to passages like the following. Here is a scene in which our protagonist, Olga, is on the street, trying to quiet her dog, Otto, who is barking aggressively at some neighbors:

By not lying down quietly as I had ordered, and continuing to bark, complicating the situation, he had ‚ÄĒ I was convinced ‚ÄĒ committed an intolerable act of disobedience [‚Ķ] When he didn‚Äôt stop I raised the branch that I had in my hand menacingly, but even then he wouldn‚Äôt be silent. This enraged me, and I hit him hard. I heard the whistling in the air and saw his look of astonishment when the blow struck his ear. Stupid dog, stupid dog, whom Mario had given as a puppy to Gianni and Ilaria, who had grown up in our house, had become an affectionate creature ‚ÄĒ but really he was a gift from my husband to himself [‚Ķ] spoiled dog, dog that always got his own way. Now I was shouting at him, beast, bad dog, and I heard myself clearly, I was lashing and lashing and lashing, as he huddled, yelping, his body hugging he ground, ears low, sad and motionless under that incomprehensible hail of blows.

Wow, okay.

Let’s count the things Ferrante accomplishes here. For context, Olga is a thoroughly average suburban housewife. We know this from previous passages. The tension builds when the dog does not stop barking, but don’t tell me that you’re not thoroughly jolted when the frustration actually explodes in physical violence.

We are not spared the sudden agony of the blow, knowing precisely where it landed; I felt the stinging in my own ear. Maybe even a ringing.

Ferrante introduces the symbolism forcefully. Olga sees the dog, and sees the husband that betrayed her. The dog quickly becomes an emblem of his selfishness, and her assault of the dog is her¬†retribution to Mario. He, who left his whole life, wife and children behind, and took his grandmother’s earrings for his new lover. He, who offered some lukewarm half-apology with a puzzling half-smile. The beating builds into a frenzy — “lashing and lashing and lashing” and how much does this nakedly incriminate our narrator? Who can possibly be less sympathetic than an abuser of dogs?

How many first-person narrators — women, no less — do this?¬†Displaying an utter lack of moral approval-seeking from the reader? A wife? A mother?

(Aha, and what is Mario, the cheater, the coward, but a dog? The symbolism goes both ways. The dog stands in for Mario, and Mario is no better than a dog.)

Then, without skipping a beat, from frenetic cruelty we move to a kind of horrible denouement. Our minds move with Olga’s eyes, in real time, down to the terrified, defeated, pathetic¬†dog. In another instant, we see Olga through Otto’s eyes; the “hail of blows” could not have been comprehensible since no, dogs cannot understand cause and effect.

Senseless harm, gratuitous cruelty — it is what Olga suffered at the hands of her husband with his sudden, swift and cavalier abandonment¬†of their nearly 20 year union. The same cruelty is what she had inflicted on the dog.

For the second time, the narrator incriminates herself.¬†She has been horrific, yes; what is more horrific than someone who abuses a dog is someone who possesses the faculty to be able to see and feel from a dog’s perspective, and did it anyway.

So, Olga. There she is for you.

I marvel at Ferrante’s psychological¬†daring. She crafted an utterly compelling narrator (a woman!) who easily transforms into a villain, and not the sexy, mysterious kind, either. The inexcusable kind that beats small animals. Then, she¬†dares us to continue sympathizing with Olga.

And we do — or at least I do, because Ferrante skillfully introduces us to every single layer¬†of despair and malice inside our own selves without denying us the grace of humanity.

Sopratutto per le donne.

… more on The Days of Abandonment next time.


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.


 

Mid-October Notes: Life hurts and I’m mostly okay with it

 

tree-2

piet_mondrian_1911_gray_tree_de_grijze_boom_oil_on_canvas_79-7_x_109-1_cm_gemeentemuseum_den_haag_netherlands

Piet Mondrian liked to depict trees, and was clearly a monster. Who would pare down a tree to this level of abstraction but also impressionistic precision. I just get so angry thinking about it
Piet Mondrian liked to depict trees, and was clearly a monster. Who would pare down a tree to this level of abstraction but also impressionistic precision. I just get so angry thinking about it

 

1. Life hurts and¬†I’m mostly okay with it

The biggest revelation (and a surprise) of this year, my 30th, is that the pain of confusion and loss are not states to avoid. Because, Number One, you cannot avoid it, since life is necessarily hard due to constraints of physical reality and the way human society is set up is far from conducive to optimizing human potential and dignity. You have no choice but to suffer if you are an intelligent, sensitive person who is awake to the desires and impulses of your essential self, because they will rub up against cultural norms and, uh, the existence of other people who are different from you.

Oh, and the ever present reality of decaying bodies and inevitable death.

Life hurts. Decisions hurt. Consequences hurt. Birth hurts and death hurts.

Love hurts. The most.

None of these are ideas against which we are to wage war. Pain isn’t a sign you’re doing it wrong.¬†This was a surprise to me.

2. Sexy cat lady, sans cats, only occasionally sexy

I have an urgent, growing and seemingly indefatigable need for silence and stillness. I started to develop this great introvertive streak a couple of years ago, and it has grown to the point where I crave silence and solitude like oxygen. I guard them, I squirrel them away.

I require beautiful, open space, my books, tools of creativity, a comfortable bed to nap on, lots of coffee and tea, and then I’m all set. For a dangerously long period of time.

When I have the luxury of such time, which I did for the past couple of days, mostly I don’t know what to do. There is no agenda. Nay, it feels fairer to say that my head-and-heart cannot abide by an agenda.

We just get quiet enough to feel the inner stirrings, and then we follow the next indicated step.

There were times, until fairly recently, when this kind of agenda-less, social-pressure-free time would have me writhing with desperation — the desperation to escape the vicious and sticky layer of mind-noise that made it all but impossible to meet¬†my unguarded self. I ran frantically to the most easily available distraction — food, booze, mindless media consumption, pointless romantic drama.

I still go there sometimes. But I am also acquainted with an alternative — that of remembering the joy of who I am alone, the soul-stirring thrill of playing with ideas, meeting the people-in-my-head¬†—¬†Frida and Che and Yeats and Mondrian. Also LBJ recently. (What, I’m mildly obsessed with dead presidents with strong personalities.) It’s nice to be able to choose.

3. Alone but not

I am incredibly glad and grateful for the deep and nourishing friendships I’ve cultivated over the years, with whom I get to enjoy apart-but-in-community, separate-but-together-ness. Or at least that’s what I’m calling the concept after a conversation with a friend who also recognized this form of relating. Most of my closest friendships are with people who are thousands of miles away, spread out across the U.S. and Europe, with whom I make time to talk, and I mean¬†really¬†talk, about the deepest contents of our hearts¬†on a fairly regular basis.

Thank goddesses for the internet.

I would feel an acute loneliness without them, but I do not. I feel my emotional needs well taken care of. I have not always had this, perhaps I will not always have it, and I do not take it for granted.

4. Integrity is breaking my brain

Living in integrity has been kind of an ongoing project because being bad at integrity has historically caused me a lot of pain.

Avoiding responsibilities, failing to own up to the consequences of my actions, getting into debt, saying things I don’t mean, dating people whose company I seldom enjoyed, jonesing for approval from people whose job it was not to give it to me.

And I learned something stunning recently and am working on applying it to my life: when I don’t want to do something because I fear disappointing another, it’s not actually their hurt feelings that I’m concerned about, though I lie to myself and say that it is so. It’s that I am unwilling to be exposed to¬†someone else’s negative response to¬†me. I don’t care about what burdens them; I care that they say, “Simone is disappointing/flaky/crazy/immoral/[whatever negative thing].”

I did some really scary things recently that exposed me to the possibility that people would say or think negative things about me because not doing so¬†felt like a betrayal of myself. I endured people’s negative opinions of me or my actions. I did not die.

The newfound boldness is terrifying and delicious.

 


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.


 

I changed my mind about public speaking

 

I used to feel like everybody and their mom wants to be public speaker, like it was this trendy self-promotion-y thing that people were doing. And because I’m a contrarian asshole with an inveterate supriority complex, I used to thumb my nose up at the whole thing, thinking, “ugh, dude, you are not as wise or interesting as you think, we don’t care about your story, put it away.”

Recently it hit me like a ton of bricks how DEVASTATINGLY WRONG I had been. The truth is exactly the opposite; life is hard and the world is fucked and every living person is made of resilience and layers of truthiness and everyone is actually WAY wiser and more interesting than they think, and someone — likely lots of someones — will care deeply about their story. Hello, oral tradition is a thing, and it is entirely composed of people — not only the Barack Obamas and Steve Jobses of the world, but normal Joes and Janes like you and I — telling stories, speaking a message, passing on wisdom, because sharing words out loud is something that humans are engineered to do.

And what kind of fucked up, fascist, anti-feminist idea it is that I subscribed to that only people with patriarchy-approved, corporate-friendly resumes are worthy of the title “public speaker.” FUCK. THAT. I want everyone to speak their narratives. I want to the privilege of being in the audience when people are being real and open and vulnerable. Because that shit is holy and madly threatening to the status quo.

So yeah, I, too, hope to speak publicly one day as a member of the human species. I hope you will, too, and let me know beforehand.

 

Some impressionistic notes on the role of art

 

Increasingly, I think of art as a sublimation and transmutation of everyday cognition and waking experience into something greater and truer, the lifeline that connects us to a metaphysical dimension inhabited by qualities, energy and essences.

We are more than our¬†bodies and earthly experiences, we are “in this world but not of this¬†world,” and art is an active form of meditation-prayer, a conscious¬†form of magic-making, our direct line to that other world — the world¬†of both sub-consciousness and super-consciousness, of images and¬†music, of hypnotic-poetic use of language.

All systems of thought and philosophy are cousins.¬†So you can call¬†that other realm Plato’s “Forms”, the pagan/shamanistic “Underworld”,¬†or the Christian spiritual reality of unending time.

They are all pointing at the same¬†thing. It’s like the proverbial story of five different¬†blind men trying to understand what an elephant is like, each by¬†touching a different body part. Each walks away with a different¬†understanding, but they are all one elephant. So, in my mind, I make¬†free associations between many spiritual paradigms.

I come from a¬†traditionally syncretic spiritual lineage. We Koreans honor our own¬†creation-mythology, involving a bear-turned-woman, as well as Jesus¬†Christ. We are Catholics who conduct rites of ancestral worship¬†yearly. We are Buddhists who leave offerings for the mountain gods. So¬†it’s not difficult or particularly risky-feeling for me to understand¬†All Systems of Enlightenment as One and intimate that all forms of¬†devotion, of movement-toward-stillness, and energy-transmutation are one.

We are here to purge the evil of the world from our souls and graduate¬†to union with God-Love-Source. This is no job for the faint of heart¬†— just ask Jesus in Golgotha, Buddha in his days in the desert. Ask¬†Christian martyrs, Muslims in arduous pilgrimage, Martin Luther King¬†Jr, Frieda Kahlo.

For this, you need faith, endurance, wisdom, the willingness to¬†say “yes” to the fight, to get your hands and feet dirty, to bleed, the willingness to dance with the devil while “keeping¬†thine eyes lifted to the mountains.”

 


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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