Discussion Topic of the Day at 1,000

Crossposted at AThousandThingsToTalkAbout.com

In the last 208 weeks, I’ve asked my friends a thousand questions. Quite literally. Starting January 14, 2013, I posted a question to my Facebook page for no reason other than to get people’s opinions. The conversation was interesting, so the next day I did the same thing. And again. And continued asking a question intended to spark conversation every weekday thereafter.

In 1,456 days, I’ve asked 1,000 unique questions – and a few dozen duplicates. My little list of 380 or so Facebook friends have posted well over 10,000 comments engaging in discussion on topics ranging from ESP to love, comfort food to political office, and just about everything in between. I’ve got people on my friends list that cover the spectrum in just about every sense of the word, and I have never had to moderate or intervene to keep it civil.

I didn’t have a particular reason for starting this project, other than curiosity about what my friends thought about the things that really didn’t have any other reason to come up. In the beginning, it wasn’t even really a project, just a thing that I did.

In very late 2014, I pulled statistics for the first 500 questions and discovered some interesting tidbits — that the most controversial topic of those 500 was blood donation, for example. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the topics, but I did know I wanted to do something. Several incarnations of various projects were experimented with.

In 2016, I started A Thousand Things to Talk About, a podcast based on those questions. I went all the way back to the very first question and started there, offering 2-3 minutes, every weekday, of research into what was behind each topic, and still quite purposefully not offering my own opinion. I am more interested in what everyone else thought.

I also started pulling the list of questions – eventually each printed on an individual card – out at family events, networking soirees, and social gatherings. I’ve always learned something new and interesting, even about people that I’ve known for years. Previously awkward situations even started settling into respectful, intriguing group conversations I didn’t want to end.

Through 208 weeks, 1,000 questions, more than 10,000 comments, over 250 podcast episodes, more than 28,000 downloads, and lots of conversations, I’ve come to one big conclusion: questions are a key.

Research tells us (a phrase very familiar to anyone who listens to my podcast) that getting to know someone is about making a connection, listening, and identifying with them in some way, shape, or form. Every answer is a chance to engage in conversation with ourselves and others. Every conversation is a chance to develop empathy, understanding, connections, and networks.

To me, questions are a key. Not to any particular lock, but instead to our shared humanity, because they invite connection.

To me, questions are a key. Not to any particular lock, but instead to our shared humanity, because they invite connection. That’s been one of the best things about this particular project; watching social networks of otherwise unconnected people emerge and grow through a shared experience that wouldn’t have existed had someone not simply created space in which it was OK to share a small part of one’s self.

I don’t think questions will solve for world peace, or suddenly make us all perfect people. I do think that asking questions will almost always be a better place to start than making statements, and if my questions help grease a few of those conversational wheels, all the better. I will continue asking questions, professionally and personally, and look forward to what the next 208 weeks might bring.

All of which is really a lead up. In all truth, I’m curious: what’s the best question someone has ever asked you?

Flash Poetry : Part One

So this morning while I was sitting at a convention with Kira, I decided to challenge myself creatively, and put out a call for prompts for “flash poetry”. It’s a concept I’ve been playing with for a while, to have someone give me a prompt and within an hour at the most turn around a quick little poem of some kind.

Some I really like, some I find funny, and some I’m probably going to keep playing with. This is the first of the eight from this round. I have really enjoyed the creative challenge, and will likely be putting the call out for more Flash Poetry prompts in the future!

Harvest Apple

Harvesting The Orchard

Written for Michael Flowers

They are called Eve’s Temptation
Nature’s Candy
And the embodiment of natural diversity

Water droplets clinging
To variegated skin
Showering down out of
Barely turned leaves
Foreshadowing that crisp and juicy
Bite that will inevitably
Be snuck while under the tree

Bounty of the soil
Promise of the sun
Sweetness of the rain
Power of time
And joy of uncertainty
Enclosed in a single star
Hidden across the equator

Eve was tempted by sweetness
As much as knowledge
And the welcome joy of both
Discovered and taken into
One’s equatorial core

Plant two seeds
From the same beloved idea
And two hundred fruits as different
As can be may emerge

The harvest of Eve’s Temptation
Feeds our bodies and curiosity
Fueling work, intoxication, and nourishment
Of our humanity

Soulfire : Creative Snowballing

I don’t remember where I first met Christina Deubel – I am fairly certain it was at a Twitter meetup, where I first noticed another tall woman, and only after that realized that she was the artist I’d been admiring the works of online. Even if that wasn’t where it first was, her artwork is consistently amazing to me. She is not only an incredible artist, she is also an incredible person – wonderfully encouraging, supportive, positive, and always happy to lend a hand, be it with a crazy artistic idea or threshing oats on the farm. A few years ago, I had an incredibly fun time photographing her at work.

This morning I noticed a new painting Christina had shared on Instagram and Facebook called “Soul Fire”: Deubel Soul Fire

and it drew me in. Seriously staring-at-it-brain-going-a-thousand-miles-a-minute entranced. And over a coffee break today, I ended up writing a poem inspired by her painting. I’ve been feeling not particularly poetical lately, so it took me by very happy surprise. Moments of “creative snowballing” – to steal a term – are, in my mind, incredible gifts that an artist may never know that they have given another, but are still part of the absolute joy of sharing creativity. Thank you, Christina, for sharing!

Soulfire, The Everything Seed

by Andrea Parrish

Trying to explain
Could perhaps begin

By describing how I may be
The culmination of thousands of days
Millions of cell divisions
And just a few trillion
Thoughts, hopes, and desires

Or how I may be
A surprisingly powerful
Tiny everything seed
Just looking for rich soil
A filtering shaft of golden light
And a rainstorm in which to bloom

Yet no matter how I begin
It feels deeply unfinished
And unsatisfying at the moment

Yet turning around
I see a winding path
Glowing with the energy
I have poured into each moment
Glowing with the passions I have
Discovered and dedicated myself to

Glowing with the passions found
And passions yet to be discovered
Utilizing yet not consuming
Reaching out for the stars

Returning rich and nourishing love
To the soil, creating a friendlier place
For new seeds that may find a home
In the paths around which I have tread

I may be “merely” skin and bones
Yet my soulfire expands far beyond
Those limits of flesh
We each have the opportunity to
Ignite the soil and trees
The skin and bones of the world around us

Rather than trying to explain
Turn around
And look at the winding paths
Already aflame with the energy and passions
Poured into the world,
Nourishing your everything seed

If you happen to be in Spokane, you should check out Christina at one of her many art showings, including tomorrow evening at Auntie’s Books!

The Beating Lifeblood of Hubris

Oat Moon

I find myself saying things I never thought I’d say. Things like “well, I’ll have to get back to you after harvest season.” and “we really need to pick up more grain storage buckets.” I thought I had an idea of what we were getting in to, and I had a general notion that we were getting into a lot of work… the scale of what we are attempting, as with most large projects, is really only hitting now that we’re in the thick of it.

In this latest harvest season, we estimate the mini-farm has produced, and we’ve picked, processed, eaten, or, frankly, decided to let the animals eat:

  • 100 lbs of Napoleaon / Queen Anne cherries
  • 25 lbs of Bing cherries
  • 10 lbs red pears
  • 40 lbs Italian plums
  • 10 lbs green plums
  • 5 lbs yellow plums
  • 75 lbs red plums (plus another 75 from Jeremiah’s trees)
  • Hundreds of pounds of apples
  • 3 gallons of cut corn
  • 40 lbs potatoes
  • 5 lbs snow peas
  • Small amounts of chard
  • Small amounts of broccoli
  • 12 cucumbers
  • 20 very giant zucchini
  • 50 lbs (maybe more) tomatoes
  • 6 mid-size watermelons
  • 6 butternut squash
  • 5 lbs raspberries
  • A few strawberries
  • 10 lb bell peppers
  • Small amounts of carrots
  • Lots of fresh mustard greens and salad greens
  • 1 gallon bag edamame
  • 5 lb radishes
  • 4 lbs Soup beans
  • 5 lbs green beans
  • A test patch of quinoa that will likely result in around 3 pounds
  • 2 pounds hazeluts
  • Lots of walnuts, most of which the squirrels are making short work of
  • 20 lbs grapes
  • 10 lbs rhubarb
  • 10 lbs of purple garlic
  • 5 lbs Oregon Grape
  • Mint, thyme, dill, and a variety of herbs

And on top of it all, helping Jeremiah with his 8,000 sq foot of oats, resulting in 200-300 pounds of finished oats.

There’s a certain hubris that comes from not realizing exactly how much work you are getting yourself into. This hubris is sometimes helpful, sometimes frustrating, and often surprising. At this exact moment, at the tail end of a four-month long harvest season… it’s overwhelming.

What I am very much looking forward to is that moment, in the depths of winter, when I am able to crack open a jar of fruit liquor to mix a drink while making dinner with some of this preserved bounty. It is a lot of work, and I’m very ready for harvest season to be over with. We are very lucky to live in a way that this harvest isn’t everything we have to eat for the year, but it’s a nice reminder to respect the work that food represents. The work to create the food, the work to prepare the food, and the work that the food allows us to do.

Food is our deep connection to the cycles and patterns and bounty of the Earth around us. From a fast dive through or grown and processed by your own two hands, food is intensely personal and intensely deeply connected to our very lifeblood, inside and out.

A Love Letter To My Pod

Valentine's Day 2014

Valentine’s Day 2014, done D&D right.

The word “family” has always been a flexible word. I happen to like the fact that “family” is very much a self-defined word, and every person has a slightly different context for it, but calling someone “family” is the near-universal language to share how important someone is in your life, and the details may be personal. As the oft-misquoted saying goes, blood is thicker than water, right?

I’ve never been someone that fit easily into a tribe. Even growing up, in my incredibly accepting and supportive family, I never seemed to quite fit. I found support, love, and passion in the theater, in public speaking, and in swim team, but even in all of these things I have very much been the odd one out. I was the theater tech geek who wanted to be on stage. I was the speech and debate nerd that wasn’t a political science major. I was the fat girl in athletics. I was dating a woman while at a Catholic college. I am bisexual, a sexual orientation that is oft overlooked in the queer spectrum. I could continue to list all the ways I am “different,” but what it really comes down to is that, like most people, I’m a compilation of a thousand wonderful, beautiful contradictions that somehow add up to a complete whole that doesn’t quite easily fit into any pre-defined mold.

Yet somehow, in a very slow process that’s been happening over the last decade, a family has developed. I sometimes call myself “lucky” for my family, even though I know there have been hundreds of tiny little decisions that have added up to the reality I am living in now. Explaining what, exactly, these decisions were, however, has proven almost impossible — with the caveat that it probably has something to do with Spokane Public Radio and turning around one night to attend theater auditions. Point being, though, that the sum total result of millions of factors have resulted in a chosen family that I completely and utterly adore.

I adore my chosen family not only because every single one of the people I include in this group is completely and in their own way, awesome; or because they accept me fully for who I am. It’s not even the fact that we all call ourselves “the Pod” (even though we do, half jokingly), for lack of a better term. It’s because even though we form a semi-cohesive Pod Unit, we are all still independent individuals. I would love and care for and adore and call every one of these people “family” separate from my relationships with the others, and the fact that we can be a chosen family together is icing on the cake. I love that it is without question (but with lots of communication) that we are there for each other, be it harvesting oats, fixing broken toilets, or staying up until all hours of the night sharing secrets at conversational tone that we never thought we’d be comfortable whispering to another soul.

Each one of these people has come into my life, and our shared lives, differently. We’ve stuck it out together through changes in our family, ourselves, and our lives that we never saw coming. We’ve been there for each other through the joys, through the sorrows, through the New Project Energy and the depths of depression.

Each one of the members of my Pod is creative, energetic, passionate, enthusiastic, unique, challenging, inspiring. There is chaos, uncertainty, friction, communication, breakthroughs and slogs. I also have complete trust that should one of us make a decision that the Pod was not the healthiest choice for themselves, that decision would be respected.

I suppose this is part of why the idea of family is so important to me. While it’s been said that “blood is thicker than water” for well over 300 years, the origin of the saying is that “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” I may not share a few specific pieces of familial DNA with my pod, but that fact, to me, strengthens our bond, for it’s a choice we all make constantly, daily, and completely. Our love, respect for, and encouragement of one another does not diminish or lessen the amount of care, compassion, love, and support in the world. It is my honest and sincere belief that our love for one another creates more room in our little slice of the Universe for even more to be found. Our expression of these feelings may take different forms, but above all that expression is both honest and respectful.

So yes, chosen family. I love you. I am in love with you. Most importantly, thank you. For making the choice to be yourselves, to be independent, and for choosing to let me (and us) walk next to you and with you on your journey.

Reading List: We Are All Our Own Works in Progress

Unfinished Work

I’ve been wracking my brain for the last week trying to figure out how to complete a poem. Right now, it’s about 10 lines long, and I have been keeping it in my “works in progress” folder. Whenever I get something new in that folder, I tend to obsess over it for a few days, trying all kinds of directions to try and “finish” the poem.

That Works in Progress folder sometimes feels like it’s mocking me. For the last while, I’ve been trying to not get angry and frustrated with myself for all the works in that folder. And that Works in Progress has been taking on a new meaning for me. By not judging myself for having “too many” things in that folder, I’ve been realizing that a “Work in Progress” is far from something to judge myself harshly for. It’s the sign of work happening. It’s the sign that creativity is happening (something that, for a long time in the depths of my depression, had been hiding from me). In fact, having works in progress, to me, is a sign of life.

Works in progress need to be respected for exactly what they are and where they are. Their potentiality exists, but respecting them for what they might be instead of what they are seems like a path to insanity.

Brain Pickings: The Psychology of Your Future Self

Quoting philosopher Joshua Knobe and author Daniel Gilbert, Maria Popova’s always-thought-provoking Brain Pickings considers the question of present self and future self. The constant challenge of long-term planning — we are the people we are now, trying to guess what the people we are in the future might like.

Gilbert argues that we’re bedeviled by a “fundamental misconception about the power of time” and a dangerous misconception known as “the end of history illusion” — at any point along our personal journey, we tend to believe that who we are at that moment is the final destination of our becoming. Which, of course, is not only wrong but a source of much of our unhappiness.

I really like the idea of the end of history illusion — because the idea that someone is “done” or is “perfect” or that everyone reaches a point of being “complete” is something I’ve struggled with a lot. Like a poem that doesn’t quite feel right, constantly stressing over that incompleteness ends up making things worse. After we reach a supposed “finish line” we still need to wake up the next morning, after all.

The Fat Nutritionist: Real Food

And the fact that we are all works-in-progress and deserve the respect for that very effort is highlighted in a heart-wrenching way by Michelle, the Fat Nutritionist in her post about “Real Food”:

Right this minute, there is someone going through chemotherapy shopping at your grocery store, buying popsicles and ice cream to help their sore mouth, and worrying what the cashier is going to think.

There is someone on hemodialysis buying white bread instead of whole wheat, trying to keep their phosphorus levels reasonable between appointments and hoping for the best.

There is a person attending intensive outpatient treatment for their eating disorder who has been challenged by their therapist to buy a Frappuccino.

There are dietitians picking up a dozen different candy bars to eat with their clients, who feel ashamed and guilty about enjoying them.

There is someone who just doesn’t have it in them to cook right now, and this frozen pizza and canned soup will keep them going.

There are people recovering from chronic dieting and semi-starvation who are buying chocolate and chips at their deprived body’s insistence.

All around us are people listening to what their bodies need and attempting to make the best possible choice within a context of overwhelming food pressure. All of their choices are valid, and every single one of these foods is “real.”

It is not a coincidence that the foods popularly imbued with “realness” map so cleanly onto class-related ideas of healthy, high-status food.

Everyone deserves respect and kindness from others, and almost more importantly from themselves. That respect and kindness, sometimes, can be very difficult because it involves standing up for yourself, which sometimes doesn’t feel kind. However, unless you show kindness and empathy and respect for yourself, then showing it to others can become draining, because unless your own needs are met, you don’t have a chance to rebuild enough energy for others.

Meghan Tonjes F.A.T.: Love isn’t Unconditional

And Meghan Tonjes, who I am a constant fangirl of, makes some extraordinary points about this in this F.A.T. video, where she points out that it’s better to “give people the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the very best they can.” In this same video, she highlights how incredibly important it is to treat yourself with that same kindness and benefit. As she puts it,

“You never feel like you have to stick by something … that doesn’t serve you on your journey to being a healthier person.”

“Love isn’t unconditional. Love thrives on the condition that you treat me with respect.”

At the end of this video, I wanted to stand on my chair and high-five this beautiful woman. Being a work in progress doesn’t mean you are required to stunt your journey for others. Responding authentically includes being willing to cut someone out that simply is not healthy for you.

Jill Malone: Four Agreements

And finally, we return to Jill Malone. In her post Four Agreements, Jill lays out how important it is to not protect someone from their journey. The entire short post is worth a full read, but here’s the conclusion:

My life is easier when I don’t attempt to decipher the behavior of others. If I have questions I’ll ask. If I’m curious I’ll engage. But I’m not here to save anyone, which is lucky, because I can’t.

Embracing the Work in Progress

A work in progress is just that — not finished. As human beings, I believe we all have a right to learn from our experiences, and treat ourselves and others with respect. A big part of this is being willing to embrace with open arms that we make mistakes, we can’t figure some things out, and that we are worth respecting ourselves. Like the poem that just isn’t quite finished, it’s a sign of life, a sign of respect, and a daily practice of self-care to care for ourselves first.

The Power of Your Story

In a system where data-driven is the lifeblood of business, of corporations, of education, of communication, a story provides personalized color and context. It is less stripped-down, less numerically based and less “big picture important” than the data-driven approach. The story fills in the data that humanizes numbers.

We are all a collection of labels — the things we identify as what makes us “us” — but those labels are nothing more than chapter headings. What creates excitement and interest and power in those labels is the story that tells how they fit together and solve the seeming conflicts. Labels are inherently limiting — stories are inherently liberating. Though the opposite can be true and freedom can found in adopting a label, it is the part that label plays in the story of you that creates that space.

Knowing one another’s stories takes effort and takes a willingness to be vulnerable. That vulnerability, in small groups and communities, develops naturally. With groups that know us well, labels become less necessary, because context comes built-in. The further outside our built communities we get, the more important and less precise these labels become.

Reclaiming your story is a huge part of defining who you are, and who you might want to be. Informational and aspirational. The data provides the structure that, in practice, becomes a measure of the authenticity of a story.

A story will always be told. Always. We often crave a fill-in to the labels that we see, perceive, or believe exist. When a story is not provided, we create one. The stories will always be understood in ways that can be perceived by the person hearing (or creating) the story. Knowing a story will always be told, and that vacuum of space between labels will crave filler, telling and reclaiming and claiming your own story is a process not only of self-definition, but also a process of self-discovery that asks us to figure out how we fill in that space for ourselves.

Trying to tell someone else’s story when you do not know it means that you are filling in details as you understand them, details based on your perceptions and ideas. Telling someone else’s story means making assumptions about them.

Telling your own story, though, is a beautiful, powerful, and liberating thing. Owning your story means being willing to live in your own skin, with all of the changes and flexibility and resilience and experimentation that involves. It means being willing to try on different things, see how they fit, keep what works, and change what doesn’t. It means owning that experimental period in college, your terrible taste in music during middle school, all of the choices and experiences that add up to you.

When you are willing to tell your story, even in limited contexts to limited audiences, even to just yourself, then it’s a willingness to not make assumptions about yourself. To define what your own labels mean to you. When your internal space between labels has already been filled, then the story someone else tries to tell about you can have less impact, and the fewer assumptions they have to make. It seems like a path towards creating a more authentic interaction for everyone.

Let’s Play Name That Cherry!

Like most fruits, there are hundreds of cultivars of cherries. We’ve got 8-ish cherry trees (not counting the volunteers that have popped up in a few random places), and despite the assurances of our neighbors that all our cherries are Bing, I’m fairly certain we have at least a few different varieties. That said, we have no idea what variety they actually are. We’ve been doing research, and have them narrowed down, we think, but would very much appreciate the help of the internet.

(And yes, later this year we will be playing “Name that Plum!” and “Name that Apple!”)

Trees #1 & #2: Yellow-Red Blush, Medium Fruit

Blush Cherry (Click image for full-size view)
At first we thought these were Ranier Cherries, which are a Washington State cultivar. In fact, they may well be that variety… however, there are a few reasons this may not be. First, these cherries have more of the red than the supposedly characteristic yellow color. Second, they seem more hearty than the supposedly “ultra-delicate” Ranier — they can be dropped from 20 feet onto a medium-length grass and not bruise or burst.

Size: Classic mid-size cherry
Grouping: Heavily grouped on the branches
Color: Yellow-Red Blush; it seems these get more red wherever they are more exposed to sunlight.
Flesh: yellow/white
Stone: Mid-size seeming
Ripening: Ripe around mid-late June
Flavor: Delicate. Not ultra-sweet, not ultra-tart.

Might Be?
These might be Bigarreau Napoleon? The spots look very similar, as does the size and flesh. This description highlights how firm the flesh is, which seems to fit.

These might also be Merton Glory cherries? The red blushing look quite correct, as does description of the fruit flavor, though I wouldn’t call them extraordinarily “juicy”.

Trees #3&4: Dark Red, Medium Fruit

These are quite possibly Bing cherries, but they seem smaller than Bings generally are, and a little lighter colored. They seem to be many more varieties of cherries that fit these specifications, though, so I”m not entirely sure where to even start on these.

Size: Classic mid-size cherry
Grouping: Bunches of 1-7 cherries per group
Color: Medium to dark red
Flesh: Medium to dark red
Stone: Mid-size seeming
Ripening: Ripe around late June, early July
Flavor: Sweet and smooth

Cherry #5: Yellow-Pink, Small Fruit

This tree may very well be just unripe and will go red when ripe. We may have to just wait to see how ripe they may get.

Size: Smallish
Grouping: Very thin. Just 1 or 2 per small branch, and very spread out
Color: Yellow with some blush
Flesh: White
Stone: Smallish
Ripening: ?
Flavor: Tart

Cherry #6 & #8: Dark Red, Tiny Fruit

These are what our neighbors call their “pie cherries”. Some are ripe now, some are still green. These little things are TINY.

Size: Ultra-tiny
Grouping: Spread out, but heavy on the branches
Color: Mid-red to dark red when ripe
Flesh: Dark red
Stone: Large compared to the fruit. Mostly stone, honestly.
Ripening: Mid-June to ?
Flavor: Tart and bitter. Would be awesome as pie filling.

Cherry #7: Same as 1&2?


So: What do you think these might be?

Reading List: “No” Is A Complete Sentence

In my wanderings around the web, I often find myself in themes and topic areas that end up tying together in interesting ways. This is a compilation of the blogs, books, and reading around a particular topic and my thoughts connecting them.

Photo by Ariel G on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

A question of consent and self-determination

The interplay between self-determination and consent culture has been on my mind, which has been playing out in my reading. The idea of consent (or enthusiastic consent) have proven very sticky wickets, because, frankly, the bright line between “yes” and “no” get very grey — not because “no” is ever grey — no means no means no — but because what all might be a “yes”, assumed, believed, implied, or spoken, gets complex when mixing together social, personal, and interpersonal.

Clear, unequivocal consent is the gold standard — the enthusiastic “YES!”. What it takes, in one’s own head and one’s own daily patterns of action, to have the self-determination to speak up in either direction, is where that kind of consent culture must begin.

Jill Malone: Mine

Let’s start with Jill Malone, one of my very favorite authors and bloggers out there. In her post “Mine”, Jill discusses in beautiful detail the kind of unintional predator-prey relationship that a lack of boundaries can create, and what it takes to stand up to that.

“I get to say what my terms are. And I get to change them whenever I want to. I can stop you in the middle. I can stop you before you’re through the doorway. I can stop you years from now. You need my consent to have a relationship with me, and you need my consent at every level of intimacy.

I didn’t always know that. And once I learned it, it was hard to employ consistently without feeling like a dick. I belong to myself. That is all. I am my own. You’re just visiting, and you have to be invited. This isn’t just the way I finally learned to date, it’s also the way I finally learned to love.”

Captain Awkward: Dating an Atheist

That boundaries issue, and the challenging no-win type situations that trying to set those boundaries can create, are explored in this great Captain Awkward post.

“know that there is no perfect feel-good way to say “BOUNDARIES!” to people who are trammeling yours”

Which the Captain then points out that even when setting those boundaries, there are some people that may just not want to accept those that you set.

“With this group, it sounds like WHATEVER you say that is not “Oh yes you’re right thank you so much for your kind concern, I will do what you say immediately” will be taken as a) the HEIGHT of rudeness and b) proof positive that this boyfriend is a bad influence on you and that they are right to try to separate you.The game is sort of rigged so that if they win if you break up with him, they win if you go all out trying to convert him, and they win the longer they get you to pay attention to them and the more you try to convince them that he’s great, because it gives them the illusion that you care about their opinion about this and that they have power in this arena. Any of those outcomes validates the idea that they were right to speak up.”

And this kind of no-win situation, where any response is one that validates the opinion of the person expressing it, is one where the person expressing / touching / acting shows little respect for the idea that your boundaries are valid. It’s tough to not feel like a dick in that situation, because they’re the ones imposing their reality, and the social contract says we should adjust to match others as much as we can.

Captain Awkward: Splitting the Bill

And sticking with the Captain, how that disrespect of your right to have an opinion is further higlighted in the post about trying to split the check with the in-laws, where the Captain points out how this kind of no-win situation gets set up:

“You say they are “sensitive,” aka, easily offended, which it sounds like they wield as a manipulation tool. Let’s break this down, shall we? They repeatedly act like total clods, leaving you to pay their tab, and then they are the ones who are offended if you bring it up? … And you are sort of …not allowed…to get offended yourself at their behavior? They are taking advantage of the social contract that says it’s rude to call attention to rude behavior, and deliberately trying to make it emotionally expensive for you to challenge them so they can keep enjoying the status quo where you take on the entire financial and emotional burden.”
“Only you and your husband can decide what feels right, just know: It will never change on its own. They will never get it on their own. Hints do not work, they just create a sea of plausible deniability for clueless and malicious people to swim around in.”

That sea of plausible deniability is one that is easy to swim in. Not actively looking for enthusiastic consent and/or assuming consent takes standing up to, not just hoping it will change.

Persephone Magazine: Beauty Therapy and Consent culture

How often many people (and often women) do not feel that speaking up is their right, or feel that speaking up is not “worth it” gets highlighted by P-Mag’s great short piece about just shutting up and taking one for the so-called team:

“All of us – all of us – had stories about how, in the course of some treatment that we willingly undertook to look or feel better, the person doing the treatment touched us somewhere we weren’t expecting; touched us intimately; made us physically uncomfortable; hurt us or injured us. And none of us said a word at the time.”

Militant Baker: Why We’ve Learned To Hate Ourselves

Building the kind of culture where individuals don’t feel that the self-determination exists to say “YES!” or “No”, even in situations where they supposedly have all the power, becomes an in-depth discussion from the Militant Baker’s history lesson on self-hate, where she talks about exactly where this fear of providing or removing conset comes from.

“Fear can be a healthy response and is necessary for some forms of survival; we do inherently have fight or flight for a reason. But our hatred (which is fundamentally fear) of bodies that look different is learned. Its a scheme created by wealthy men in smoke filled offices over 50 years ago. Allow me to ask you this: are you going to let your value as a human decrease because of a business man who is no longer alive? Are you going to base your decisions on how you live your life on a profit scheme? Are you going to hate yourself for not living up to a standard that does. Not. Exist? Lord, help us all.”

When She Woke

The self-defeating nature of what comes from this fear is succinctly put in the great book When She Woke by Hillary Jordan, which I picked up at random while wandering through Powell’s Books clearance section.

“She was thinking about shame… what had carrying all that guilt and self loathing accomplished? Nothing, except to sap her confidence and enfeeble her. And she couldn’t afford to be weak, not if she wanted to survive. No more, she resolved. She was done with shame.”

And while I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that weakness has no place, I do have to say I grok with the idea that a deep sense of self-determination is extraordinarily important.

Elephant Journal: Can Polyamory Help Destroy Rape Culture?

Coming full circle, to what happens when a culture values speaking up and providing clear, consistent, and enthusiastic consent is discussed by Tikva Wolf writing in the Elephant Journal, when she talks about one of the biggest necessities in functioning, ethical non-monogamy — making consent and communication expected and sexy.

“I used to think that stolen kisses were sexy, but now I see them as a sign of emotional immaturity and dissociation. I would much rather my partners be obviously interested in what I want than trying to see what they can get out of me. I would much rather be telling them what I want than waiting for them to guess.”

Explanation is Intimacy?

And while there are thousands more blogs, posts, stories, movies, and discussions out there about this expansive and important topic, I think the most important point made is this: that consent is a two-way street. Having the self-determination to actually stand up and express and opinion is the biggest piece of that. Respecting other’s ability to do so, and their opinions when they are expressed, is the other side. If no means no (as it should), then yes must mean yes. Both “no” and “yes” should be treated as complete sentences, because any further discussion beyond that is allowing someone else a level of intimacy that you have the right to consent to — or not.