On Transforming Toxic Relationships

On Transforming Toxic Relationships

Paradox is Life’s Organizing Principle

 

Not that long ago, I was in a relationship that was not good for me. It was not good for me before I left it, but I guess I had to stay for as long as I stayed to make sure that it wasn’t gonna get any better, that I wasn’t gonna regret having “given up too soon” or not “given it a chance”. Whatever, that was not the greatest idea, as I stayed through “extra” suffering…but I also believe that we are always exactly where we need to be and that the timing of Life is always precise. I think most grown women can identify with having been in such a situation at some point.

What happened is that I was expecting the other person to be different than they were. They said they wanted to be different, so I stuck around for a bit to see if that was true. It may have been true that they wanted to make a change, but the change never came. So I left.

This broke my heart in a gazillion pieces so small that my heart turned back to stardust. A slight breeze blew and scattered it all over the globe, and I thought I’d never get it back. Never is a long time and I’m happy to report that my heart is whole and full and it really didn’t take that long. I was able to not just recover fully but get to an emotional, spiritual, and physical place that was beyond where I had ever been before. I did this mostly through magic, and the loving support of a solid community.

I wanted to share that story in the context of what we’re going through socio-politically in the world at the moment. We are in relationship with a story that is not good for us. That story is the patriarchal, misogynistic, white supremacist, neoliberal capitalist system that claims Male over Female, White over every other race, Industrialized West over Global South, Straight over LGBTQ, Cisnormativity over Transgender, etc… and Money over everything else. And we do have power over changing our relationship with it.

Let me explain.

First, a reminder that paradox is the organizing principle of Life, and that powerful witches are super comfortable with this concept. Because some of what I’m gonna tell you doesn’t make sense at first read, but please hang with me. 

If we think that the current system is gonna change, we are gonna wait a long ass time for our liberation. If we understand that it is what it is, and that we need to change, we can be free right now. I changed my shitty relationship by leaving it. I wanted the other person to change, and when I realized that was not gonna be a thing, I changed by walking away and creating a whole new better situation for myself. 

That was hard as fuck. I was in love, I had already invested a long time in this relationship, I had all kinds of beautiful visions for a future together that I had to let go of. It really shredded me to pieces. But the reality was that what I wanted for my life was never gonna happen in that relationship. So it had to end.

Now…it’s not that easy to walk away from an entire society that is based in toxic, abusive, exploitative, unfair, and harmful practices and ideas and rules that really fuck up our lives. I’m not suggesting to go off the grid and grow your own food and not interact with the industrialized west at all, although more power to you if you do that.

What I am suggesting is that WE change and in turn change our relationship to the system, and force the system to change. Unlike my ex who gets to choose who they are and has their own agency, the current society we live in is in fact changeable, because WE are it. The paradox is that while we are just nodes in a network, and no matter how much we want to change the patterns of the network, we are stuck by structural constraints, the structure itself is changed by the relationships between the nodes. In other words: structural racism starts to change when the relationships between the people that uphold it start to change. This is why protesting works: the people let the powers that be know that we are no longer here for their fuckery, and put pressure on them until things start to shift, and then keep going until the change sticks (and as dismal as things are, they have changed and they can and do get better).

Another example: women have been getting abused for thousands of years, but most recently (and not for the first time), the courage and power of the #MeToo movement has started shifting things. Women changed from being silent to being able to organize and speak up. The paradox of this view is that I am not suggesting that things are shitty because “we choose” to be in a shitty situation. Hell no. We’ve ALL being brainwashed by millennia of a rotten way of thinking that really got out of control a little over 500 years ago and that by now is finally crumbling under its own weight. It’s not like women are getting harassed and abused because they’re not speaking up about it, they are getting harassed and abused because harassers and abusers are doing it. It’s the harassers and abusers fault and responsibility. But as women, it is also our responsibility, as we are ready and able, to change ourselves and speak out and organize and demand better.

So the paradox I’m inviting you to ponder is the idea that we can’t change the world, and yet we are the only thing that’s gonna change it. As you work on yourself and grow and evolve, don’t forget to think about your part in growing and evolving our society. And as you vote, organize, protest, write letters, pressure your congress people, do whatever you do to make a change for us all, don’t forget yourself. If you are not well, none of us can be fully well. If you are not healthy, none of us can be fully healthy. If you are not happy, none of us can be fully happy. Enjoying the fuck out of this life is your birthright and your political responsibility. Take it seriously and go have yourself a fabulous day.

 

 

Why Go Back to the US?

Why Go Back to the US?

The beaches in Australia are the best in the world

On May 15, 2020, I posted on social media: THREE years ago today I moved back to SF from Australia. I cannot believe I’m gonna say this but it was absolutely the right thing to do for me in every way, except that now I live in the US. Loving friends on both sides of the ocean expressed their congratulations or condolences – or both.  Because I am so freaking excited and grateful to be in the US, and it is a total dump these days, both are true.

And then a friend solved my “what should I write about this week” when she requested: Please write an article about this. I need to understand why people go back to the US who could live in Australia [or insert other country of your choice]; what it’s been like, highs and lows.

For the first 18 years of my life, I lived in Santiago de Chile, and I moved to Ithaca NY to go to college and ended up staying in a town the size of a well-attended concert in Santiago for the next 10 years. Why I left Chile for the US is another long story, but let me say it was 1993 and the “idea” of the US was still alive and well. The US was a huge economic superpower, its cultural imperialism had seeped deep into the brains of people around the globe, and the “American way” and the “American dream” with justice for all seemed enticing, if not almost believable.

In 2003 I finally came home to San Francisco. SF has always been a mythical place in my heart and in most people’s imagination. Its physical beauty is undeniable, it’s relatively small and livable, it’s the freak capital of the universe which was the main appeal for me. Are you a total weirdo who doesn’t fit in anywhere? Come to SF! Witches, gays, activists, artists, tech mavericks, gold diggers and more have all found refuge and space for their soul in the city by the Bay. Like that – Bay capitalized, always capitalized in my mind.

But in 2011 I moved to Australia. First, it was my brother’s idea, he was living there and we hadn’t lived in the same landmass in 21 years and something about the idea of being close seemed compelling. He suggested it on a whim and I kinda pondered it for 2 seconds when a magical chain of serendipities made it happen for me in 90 days flat, so I just went for it. 

Sunset and moonrise over St Kilda, Melbourne

But the main reason I went for it in the first place, was that I was burnt out on the US. I smelled the insane fascist shit show we’re living through now a mile away and needed a reprieve from it. After 9-11, life had become more blatantly oppressive in the US and that freaked me out – it was the exact opposite of what it was meant  to be. I remember taking a trip back to SF from San Jose de Costa Rica when my mom (traveling with a Chilean passport), my brother (traveling with an Australian passport) and myself (traveling with a US passport) freaked the shit out of the American Airlines staff dealing with our paperwork because they couldn’t understand that this family had different nationalities and they would all be allowed to legally enter to the US and the experience wasn’t pleasant to put it mildly and I just thought to myself “Fuck these assholes, I gotta get out of here”.

Eighteen months later I was living in Melbourne. And five and a half years later, I’d be back in SF. 

My experience in Australia was pure magic. I traveled the entire country, went to the northernmost tip of the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, dove the Reef three times, drank decaf flat whites in Melbourne for two and a half years or so, worked on my tan in Sydney for two and a half years give or take, enjoyed the most beautiful beaches in the world, made a host of incredible friends, did unbelievable work with incredible comrades (shout out to The Wilderness Society and Greenpeace International), attempted to surf in Bondi enough times to buy Rio, a surfboard I still own, taught magic in a place sadly devoid of witches, lived with a beautiful young man for a decent while, tried to get into the idea of being a “morning person” like the rest of the country and failed miserably, had the privilege of spending time with my niece during the first five years of her life, was the opening female speaker at Occupy Melbourne, got to see Midnight Oil at my corner bar…and was profoundly bored and kinda depressed.

Australia is super socially conservative. People are not open to outsiders. Folks live very beautiful, calm, safe, predictable, vanilla lives. There’s really not that much going on. Not much political discourse. Not much live music. Sydney is like that town in Footloose, for those of you old enough to get the reference. The nightlife is pathetic. I just found it painfully boring. And it’s racist AF.

On this last point: the US is profoundly racist – and it knows it. In California, I’m part of a community of people of color who think and work and dream ways to transform this white supremacy. In Australia, I felt like possibly the only one who wanted to talk about it, except for Aboriginal folks, but there wasn’t a large enough number of like-minded people for me to feel at home. In the Bay, it’s totally OK to be actively working to create and sustain new infrastructures of being that are whole and healthy, it’s encouraged to model courage, it’s acceptable to talk about the end of the neo-liberal, patriarchal, capitalist experiment that benefits a whole 1%, and even that is debatable cause how we are measuring those folks wellbeing looks only at money, which as we know is only a part of a way more complex equation. In Australia, these conversations are consistently met with discomfort and awkwardness. It vibed like the US in the 50’s to me. 

This was down the street from my place!!!

So when I turned 40, and realized that I really did wanna settle down at home, and that Sydney would never be home, and that if I was going to be cold in Melbourne I might as well be cold in San Francisco. And then, on Wednesday, November 9, 2016, I was walking down 24th St in the Mission and I heard in my head “Girl, where do you wanna be when the Zombie Apocalypse hits? Cause it just hit”. And so I went back to Sydney, sorted out my life and came back to SF exactly three years ago on May 15.

I made it back on time to dance the Carnaval, which I don’t think would have ever happened in Australia (fun times are heavily segregated by age and I’m pretty old in Oz while only a full grown up in SF, haha). I dove heavily into the work of dreaming the world anew. I believe SF to be the bellwether for global innovation. The current level of inequality in this town doesn’t let me sleep at night, and forces me to check my work against it every day. I think if we can do something about it here, maybe we can elsewhere as well. Same with democratic processes, racism, human rights, and all the things I care about.

The city is overpriced, overrun by techbros, gentrified, and dirty. And yet, I can’t find another place in the world where I feel more at home. And, to answer my friend’s question, I’m not sure to what extent I came back to the US, as much as I came home to SF. FWIW.

Belonging with My Human

Belonging with My Human

 

Maritza and Jeff and their respective human

There is a man in my life. I like everything about him, except for his freezing cold feet that startle the shit out of me when I accidentally brush against them in bed, before they have thawed out. It’s like the anti hot water bottle experience. But at least they eventually warm up and I can live with it. And, I love him, cold feet and all.

Falling in love is hands down one of the highlights of being human. Getting to know another person, revealing your weirdness to them, coming together to eat too much and not sleep enough for weeks on end, finding out how much of a snob they can be without you really thinking it’s a problem, going couch shopping like it’s an exciting overseas adventure – just because you have so much fun together no matter what you’re doing…these things are not to be missed. Definitely one of my favorite parts of being alive.

Jeff and I have recently gone through this experience and we now refer to each other as “mine”. As in, like he put it: “I’m your boyfriend, you’re my girlfriend”. I really dislike the term “boyfriend” because having dated too many men that weren’t fully grown up, I think we should call them “manfriends”. But it sounds weird, I know, and “partner” is lovely and gender neutral and usually where I land, but my point is that whatever we end up calling it, we do identify the other as being each other’s human.

For spiritual, philosophical, and political reasons, the idea of being “someone’s” person is completely fucked up. It reeks of oppression, abuse, constraint, lack of agency, and general sickness. Yet, it is also the highest aspiration that we have as humans: the desire to be loved and the need to belong are our most basic drives. There is something inherently safe about knowing who your people are, who can help you climb a tree when a tiger is trying to eat you, or recognize the remains if you get eaten after all. 

Not just loving, but also belonging, have deep evolutionary functions for the species survival. Belonging, in Spanish, “pertenecer”, has a strong ownership connotation. Pertenecer is not only to belong, but to be owned by – without the creepy overtones. And in a loving relationship, pertencer a otra persona – to belong, or be owned by another person – is actually the most beautiful experience we can strive for. Not to just be with someone, but to be theirs. Having this connection and this knowing that makes us feel safe, protected, appreciated, valued, loved, and also amused, cared for, ecstatic, fulfilled, and challenged. I think this experience is so trascendental and so deep and so exhilarating that the only way to put it into words is to break through the boundaries of where I think I end and the other begins, and to call each other mine.

So yeah, as of now, I am Jeff’s, and he is mine. Knowing full well that there are real boundaries and limits and this is not quite the case, not literally, cause politics, and agency, and feminism, and such. But at the end of the day, when it’s done right – he’s mine and I’m his. And he and I are doing it right.

 

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